Category Archives: crime

Women in Horror: Sara Townsend

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Today we’re back in the UK for Women in Horror Month, where Sara Jayne Townsend talks about how she discovered horror and what draws her in.

WHY HORROR?

I was 13 years old when I discovered horror. Before then, I was scared of anything remotely creepy. But something changes in you when you hit puberty, and it’s not just about all the previously undiscovered angst coming out. That year, I picked up Stephen King’s Different Seasons while browsing in the school library. I liked it so much I went looking for more books by the same author and came across Carrie. After that, I was hooked.

The same year, my English teacher gave the class an assignment to write a horror story. Townsend The Whispering Death New E-book Master (3) (400x640)Mine was about ten teenagers who went on a camping trip in a remote field and unearthed an ancient evil that possessed some of them, who then went around murdering the others. I really enjoyed writing it, and the teacher seemed to like it as well (she gave me an A+). It was something of a flawed story, but I was only 13 and had a lot to learn about the craft of writing.

That was 36 years ago, and I’ve been writing horror ever since. Over the years I’ve had many people ask some variation of the same question: “What’s a nice girl like you doing writing such nasty stories?”

So what is it about horror that’s so fascinating? I’ve asked myself the same question several times. Part of it is about exploring the dark nature of humanity. I am not interested in stories about people discovering love and living happy every after. I am much more interested in writing, and reading, about the darkness in people’s souls. What makes someone take the life of a fellow human being? The majority of people can’t imagine doing this, and yet it happens in our world, every day. Serial killers are fascinating to me because I want to understand what makes them do what they do. Is it some misfiring synapses in their bTownsend Suffer The Children 200X300rain that makes them want to kill people? Or is it that such people are truly born evil?

Part of the appeal of horror on a personal level is being able to exorcise one’s own demons. I have certain recurring themes that seem to pop up in a lot of my stories−isolation; loneliness; despair. These seem to represent my own inner demons, and writing about them helps me to find a way to externalise them, and come to terms with them.

Another aspect of horror writing is escapism. A lot of readers like fantasy because it allows them to escape to a fantastical land of magic and strange and marvellous creatures, and a world that seems far more appealing than the one they live in. In horror, the reader escapes to a much darker world, of monsters and evil entities. Townsend OUTPOST H311 MASTER (3) (200x320)Sometimes it puts your own problems into perspective. If you are reading a story about a world where a plague has wiped out all of humanity, and the few survivors face a daily battle of survival against brain-eating zombies, your own everyday worries seem somewhat insignificant in comparison.

And then of course there is the element of fear. We all like to be scared, but we much prefer to do it in a controlled environment, where we know the threat isn’t really real. That’s why people like roller coasters. The ride might be scary, but when it’s over you get off and the fear goes away. The same thing happens when you finish a scary book, although a really scary book might stay with you for a few days after you finish reading it. If I can do that to a reader, then I’ve done my job as a horror writer.

For all of these reasons, I love horror. I deal with my own fears by re-imagining them onto the page. And if I can write something that gives you nightmares–well, I’d take that as a compliment.

Townsend sara-121-Web (2)Sara Jayne Townsend is a UK-based writer, and someone tends to die a horrible death in all of her stories. She lives in Surrey with two cats and her guitarist husband Chris. She is author of several horror novels, the latest one being Outpost H311, the story of an oil exploration team who crashland on a remote island in the arctic to discover a hidden base that is hiding some sinister secrets.

Learn more about Sara and her writing at her website and her blog. You can also follow her on Twitter and Goodreads, and buy her books from Amazon UK and Amazon US.

 

 

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Women in Horror: Pat Flewwelling

WiHMX-horizontal-WhiteFrom Canada, writer and editor Pat Flewwelling talks about horror, scary reality and maybe, just maybe why women write horror.

Writing Horror All Along

For some folk, horror is synonymous with supernatural evil and/or gore. I think that’s unfair. There are plenty of horror stories that are all creep and no gore, like the Haunting of Hill House, Turn of the Screw, and Beloved. And there are stories that have no supernatural evil and yet are still shiver-worthy, like the original Stepford Wives, We have Always Lived in the Castle, The Yellow Wallpaper, Rebecca, and Flowers in the Attic.

Pat asks, what is scary? Image: MoviePilot.com

So, for the purposes of this argument, let’s take the supernatural and the gore out of the equation, because to be fair, there are a select few well-paid authors who have diluted all fright out of things that go bump in the night.

Without eldritch beings, evisceration, and eyeballs dangling from their sockets, what horror have we got left? Scary evil human beings. Let’s pretend then, that we want to write an in-your-face-scary horror story, leaving out the supernatural—and the swearing!—while sanitizing the gore and the violence, shall we?

Perhaps we should tell a story about an anonymous serial killer. Those are always big box office sellers, right? Maybe we can make the killer that creepy lurker on your street corner, standing there with his mental checklist, hunting for That One hidden amongst The Many. We don’t know he’s there until it’s too late, and by then, he’s become a pernicious and inexorable threat.

Oh wait…that story has already been told. A lot. Like, a lot.

Or perhaps he’s not that snaggle-toothed rando lurking in the shadows. Maybe he’s known and trusted, maybe even has a “special bond” with your children. There’s no safety at home, because that’s where he lives; there’s no safety with your parents; there’s not even a safe refuge for you with your friends. He always seems to know where to find you.

But perhaps it’s all in your mind. You’re just being hysterical. You’re overreacting.

Ah, but you perceive a threat— everyone knows there’s a threat—but since he hasn’t actually done anything to you, the police can’t help you. You show them the emails, the text messages, but that doesn’t prove anything, does it? All the makings of a great psychological horror, if overdone. In non-fiction.

Scary, sure, but what about evil? Like, deep-down, weapons-grade evil? This is a horror story after all. Why not some psychotic doctors, or baby-stealers, or people who slash genitalia? That kind of evil doesn’t really exist in the world, right? I mean, if true evil existed in the world, we’d see things like rape of incapacitated patients, forced sterilization without consent, systemic child abduction, husband stitches, and FGM (female genital mutilation). Besides, it can’t be evil if it’s legal, right?

Yikes. I sound a little biased. Let’s redirect this conversation, shall we? Maybe we should flip the script and have a scary, evil woman.

Well, the old serial killer trope still comes to mind. Black widows are standard fare, too, but in some cases, that horror plotline can quickly become a comedy. Well, we could always pull in a standard stalker, or a not-so-standard stalker. It’s strange that all the “evil” female villains seem to engage in—and the really, really evil ones attack children, especially their own. The worst? When they attack children sexually. Not always, of course. Don’t get me started on articles about the psychological or financial abuse they commit on all genders and ages. Women are a nasty bunch of creatures all on their own. After all, who do you think supports FGM? Who do you think performs it?

I won’t even consider writing a story about violence done against or by transgendered women, so don’t ask me to go checking how often a story like that has been done before. Thanks anyhow.

Flewwelling BlightOfExiles

Find Pat’s Blight of Exiles through Tyche Books

Maybe women horror writers add that supernatural element in order to create a monster they can actually see, define, and conquer. A monster we’re allowed to attack, encouraged to destroy. In a story like that, we can become the Mama Bear you just don’t want to mess with. We don’t just beat up the demons and send them home again; we undermine them. We can get inside their heads, understand what makes them tick, and use that to our advantage. And oh, how we will destroy them. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, sure; but hell hath no single-minded, red-raged resolve like a mother whose children you’ve threatened.

And maybe we write the gory details because we know what it’s like to suffer the indignities of our bodies uncontrollably mutating throughout our lifetimes—puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, menopause. Maybe it’s our reaction to having our bodies and our lives constantly, publicly, dissected and deconstructed, not just by the male gaze, but by our own sisters and mothers and friends.

Maybe some of us are so sick of being never-good-enough that we just want to chuck deuces and become the whole-hearted villain they make us out to be. No holds barred, no flinching, all biting, all punching back, taking (for a change) instead of offering it up. Shackle-breaking. Free. Light. Instead of placating our attackers, standing up and fighting back. Striking first, instead of enduring a lifetime of hypervigilance, waiting, watching, wondering. Stabbing at ideals. Slashing at double-standards and artificial boundaries and self-imposed limitations. Bloody-toothed violence, but with a purpose and an end goal: Leave me and mine alone.

Or maybe women have been writing horror all this time, but calling it something else, like “autobiographies,” “statistical analysis,” and “autopsies.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMaybe we’ve been calling it “journalism” all along.

Pat Flewwelling writes dark fiction of all kinds, from short stories like “The Great Inevitable” in Expiration Date (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing, ed. Nancy Kilpatrick) and “Cyphoid Mary” in Alice Unbound (Exile Editions, ed. Colleen Anderson), to full-length novels like Blight of Exiles, Plague of Ghouls, and Scourge of Bones (Tyche Books, 2015, 2016, 2017 respectively). Forthcoming works include “Nowhere Time” in Canadian Dreadful (Dark Dragon Press, ed. David Tocher), and the fourth novel in her Helix series: Sedition (Tyche Books, 2019). On the side, she also runs a travelling bookstore, is a co-editor at ID Press, and works full-time as a senior business analyst.

You can find some of Pat’s work, Expiration Date, Alice Unbound and the Helix trilogy on Amazon.

 

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Playground of Lost Toys Interviews: Abrahamson & Renwick

toys, childhood, nostalgia, fantasy, SF, fiction, short stories

Playground of Lost Toys is available through Amazon published by Exile Writers

Karen Abrahamson’s “With One Shoe,” and Alex C. Renwick’s story “Between the Branches of the Nine” are two of the last three stories in the Playground of Lost Toys, with Geoffery Cole’s “Wheatiesfields in Fall” in between. When editing a themed anthology, the editors always look at balance. Are there too many SF stories and not enough fantasy; are there authors of various genders; are there too many doll stories, etc.

As well as that balance, after we’ve selected the final stories, we need to decide on what order they should appear. Do you put all the SF together, do you put the train stories or the chess stories together? There were many ways to arrange everything. Because several of the stories are very dark and horrific and some are lighter and uplifting, would it make sense to put the darkest next to the lightest?

In some cases we eased readers toward the dark and then eased them back away. Cole’s story is humorous and SF. Abrahamson’s is a tale of hope and a mystery. Last was Renwick’s, which deals with games of the gods and it seemed a great way to end the anthology with the cyclical and immortal aspect of time. Karen comments first on her tale.

  1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys?

 When I heard about the anthology theme it gave me a little shiver down my spine. I immediately had the idea for the story and so I just had to write it. I haven’t written a lot of short fiction over the years as I seem to prefer novel length. This was a chance to practice the short form.

  1. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood?

    fantasy, magic, mystery, swings, toys, hope, speculative fiction, Karen Abrahamson

    Karen Abrahamson is the author of several serial novels. She also writes as Karen L McKee.

Funnily enough, yes it does. I had very vivid dreams as a child and one of them was of a magical swing. In my dreams I could swoop down and rescue my family and friends from evil giants and escape afterward. Writing the story was just a natural extension of the scenario of what would happen if a child really did leave on such a swing.

  1. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story?

Hope and how society kills hope through our expectations and institutions. I’ve been doing some work with youth in my day job and I hear so much about the importance of youth finding their passion in order to successfully transition to adulthood. The trouble is, too often we tell young people that their passion is impossible, like you can’t make a living as an artist so you’re better off becoming a lawyer. This story is about the desperate need to be what you are.

  1. Is there anything else you wish to mention about your story or the theme of the anthology?

I was surprised and a lot pleased that “With One Shoe” turned into a detective story. I’ve written a lot of fantasy and romance, but these days mystery really has me by the throat. I had fun with experimenting with that jaded Harry Bosch-type voice. I can see myself writing more like that.

  1. What other projects do you have in the works, pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year?

Hmm. Lots to tell. My first mystery novel, Through Dark Water just came out this fall under the name K.L. Abrahamson. I also have an urban fantasy series, The American Geological Series that involves map magic, with the first book, Afterburn, currently available for free. Finally, along with a number of romantic suspense novels set internationally, I have a paranormal series, The Unlocking Series set in the sunny Okanagan. Book 4 was out over Christmas, Book 5 in January and Book 6 in February. More mystery and fantasy will be coming out next year. You can check out my novels at www.karenlabrahamson.com

Alex C. Renwick’s “Between the Branches of the Nine” is a great adventurous romp with two warriors bent on besting the other.

  1. What was your main reason for submitting a story to Playground of Lost Toys?

I’m a huge fan of the short story form, and always excited to be invited to participate in any worthy anthology endeavor. Shortfic FTW!

  1. Does your story relate at all to anything from your own childhood?
gods, Norse, fantasy, games, speculative fiction, Alex C Renwick

Alex C. Renwick’s tale deals with Norse gods and the game pieces they move through Midgaard.

My Norwegian grandmother had one of the most amazing private SF paperback collections I’d ever seen, all stirred together with her illustrated Scandinavian mythology books and cheesy 1970s Harlequin romances. She came to live with us when I was about ten years old, and nothing in her library was off limits. The character Sigunna’s name is a nod to my gran’ma Sigrid.

  1. What theme or idea were you exploring in your story?

I’m fascinated by the uncaring nature of the universe. We’re conditioned (by dint of being human) to try to attribute reasonableness and pattern to the courses of our individual existences…but the universe doesn’t care, no matter who or what is—or isn’t—running the show. Fate, Cosmic Intelligence, Ancient Norse Gods, Random Molecular Trajectory: we’re just ephemeral playing pieces on a vast and unfathomable board.

  1. Is there anything else you wish to mention about your story or the theme of the anthology?

I so rarely write full-tilt fantasy! Fun stuff. Had a blast.

  1. What other projects do you have in the works, pieces people can buy, or places to find you in the coming year?

I’d urge everyone to read another fantastic Canadian anthology from Exile Editions, cover to cover; (it) was one of the best contributor’s copies I’ve received in ages: The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir. Other current short stories of mine are just out or out soon in Tesseracts 19: Superhero Universe, Blurring the Line, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and PS Publishing’s Postscripts anthology, Breakout. If you’re up for more sword & sorcery mayhem check out my “Ravenblack” in Women in Practical Armor from Pacific Northwest micropress Evil Girlfriend. Anyone in this neck of the woods in 2016 can come find me at Seattle’s Norwescon, or around the known universe at alexcrenwick.com.

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Women Were Meant to be Victims

women's rights, abuse, subjugating women, female victims, sexual abuse, spousal abuse

Did you tell your woman that god would disrespect her if she shows her face? Did she believe you? Creative Commons: lakerae, flickr

Did that get your attention? If it did, then what happens every day in the world around you and probably in your city should also get your attention. Unfortunately, it sometimes seems people don’t care to read about such things unless they’re titillating and sexy. As a woman, and a human being, I can do no less than talk about this.

Recently the sexual assaults (which covers everything from rude and suggestive language to groping to rape) in Egypt was highlighted on the news. Some women have created harassmap site to alert others to areas where women have been abused. But this isn’t new. We have heard of numerous nations, groups, and forces who, as part of their terror, overthrowing or rebellion, rape women and girls as part of their undermining of the other side. It’s horrible and we know it’s horrible. Or at least everyone says that until they’re involved, so in fact there are some (and I mean ONLY SOME) men who do not feel it’s too horrible to be a perpetrator in such times of violence.

virgins, sexualization, victimization, women's rights, subjugation

If you’re not a virgin, you must be a slut, and maybe, like this cover, you’ll be both.

How long have women been made victims in one way or another? I don’t know but we know one aspect begins with the Bible when Eve was blamed for taking the forbidden fruit and giving it to Adam. As if he couldn’t make up his own mind. As if he were a child. As if she used coercion that was more than handing it to him. Myth for some, apocryphal for others, yet truth for yet another group, this motif has flavored treatment of women for many ages. Yet Christianity is by far not the only religion to blame. While religion may or may not be the reason women are treated as lesser beings, it also goes to cultures that decided to make cultural rights and practices part of their religion. (the veil is not part of the Quran). Ownership and a man’s superior physical strength made women chattels, or possession or slaves. So yes, there is a long history of women being victimized.

Adam and Eve, sexism, women's rights

Was Adam too stupid to get the fruit for himself, or was he just making Eve do all the work? Lucas Cranach 1538

There are those who, for whatever misguided reason, believe that women belong in these categories. Are you one of them? Should a woman walk behind a man, answer only to him, be kept housed or hidden for only his desires, be blamed for all the faults of humankind? Think about it. Most women are not the perpetrators of war and violence. It is mostly men who go to war.

Let’s take religion out of it for a minute. Yes, women are still victimized. Raped because a criminal won’t control his urges. Beaten because a man is angered. Killed because she leaves her abusive partner or mars something as ephemeral and subjective as honor, in the eyes of a father or brother or husband. She’s the sex kitten who is of course a slut and good for one thing. She is a prude who won’t let a man control her, she is a virgin to be idolized by men because when they get her she hasn’t been tainted by other men, as if she’s a holy relic, as if it’s okay that they have been with other women. She is raped by a gang of men and yet she is charged with adultery or another crime. Look at that poor woman in India. Look at your own city and see how many women and girls have been raped or beaten or murdered or just hit upon. The news doesn’t report even half of them. George sleeps with a different woman every night and he’s just sowing his oats while those women are all sluts. That’s fair, isn’t it?

sexism, sexist ads, women's rights

Ask yourself, why isn’t it a man’s body for a man’s shoe?

A police officer recently told women to not dress provocatively if they wanted to avoid being sexually assaulted. In some Middle Eastern countries anything less than covered in the burqa is considered provocative. In other countries you can be in a loincloth and nothing more and that’s not provocative. Whether a person’s dress is considered to be salacious or not, that is no reason for sexual abuse of any sort. They’re not “asking for it.” If you think your god will disapprove, let him or her decide, not you. If you are afraid it will incite a man to his base desires, then what are you saying about men, that they are only beasts and uncontrollable? And if that’s the case, then it’s they who should be caged. I like to afford everyone the same right. The right to be free, think for themselves and have an equal chance at jobs and life. Men and women. No one group gets painted with a big brush.

That means whether they’re of one religion or none, any color or ethnicity, any gender or gender preference. Unfortunately the world is not fair nor equal but we, you and me, could all do better at ethically getting rid of stereotypes and not feeding into this view. Scoffing and continuing in the vein of labeling women sluts, whores, tramps and seductresses only leads to more women being subjugated, raped, owned or downtrodden as lesser beings because of someone’s beliefs. The only belief that should really matter is that you can do what you want, as long as you do not hurt or subjugate anyone else. Let’s try living like that for awhile.

sluts, whores, tramps, subjugating women, sexual abuse

The slut walk came about because men’s attitudes mean women ask for or deserve whatever they get. Creative Commons: Spanginator

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Thoughts on 9/11 Ten Years After

I am probably one of very few people in North America who has never seen a picture of the Twin Towers falling. Ever. In ten years. There are several reasons for this. I didn’t and don’t have a TV because I feel very bludgeoned emotionally by the trauma and tragedy of the world. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. I care very much. Too much. So I have never wanted to see the people falling, the towers crumbling.

Even ten years later, when CBC’s The Current talks to a girl who was 12 at the time in a school near by, I find myself welling up with tears and emotion. It affected me enough that I don’t think I could handle the images. And I know what a terrible thing it was.

I was geographically far removed from the event, living in Vancouver, BC. And when a friend posted online in the morning before I went to work that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center I thought it was an unfortunate accident. As I drove to work I soon realized the severity of what was going on. I was glued to the radio all day, alternating between tears and panic.

I felt a fear that day that I had never known before and it makes me very sad to realize that many people have gone through this or live in a constant state of fear in countries and regimes fueled by violence and tyrannies. My world, my comfy world of little mundane issues was turned upside down. Like many, I didn’t know if we were under attack and war had reached our shores. I only know that my security was undermined and I was not prepared. Ten years later, were we to be attacked full on, I find I’m still unprepared. How do you prepare for such a thing. I’d like to think I’d survive, that I’m tough, that I’d adapt, but I don’t really know, and I hope I never have to find out.

The falling of the towers was also the final clincher in my mental health. I didn’t know I was going into clinical depression. I was already suffering from despair and sadness and not being able to cope with the little things. I was knocked completely for a loop after that. It was a long, painful year of recovery after that.

My story “Horizons” for the Mammoth Book of On the Road was for a collection of road trip stories. It was written during this time and about a woman who is late for work and therefore doesn’t die when 9/11 happens. She deals with guilt about being tardy while others were good and showed up on time. She also chooses to disappear, drive into the wilderness and camp for who will know that she didn’t die in the collapse of the towers? Interestingly, this story (which is not SF) got very little attention or reviews and even I forget about its existence. I might post it on this blog in the next few days.

What 9/11 did was put the Taliban on the map for many of us. It also gave George Bush his misguided holy crusade. Perhaps the good things were that emergency response measures and security were looked at closely but we also received an overlarge dose of paranoia. To this day it’s easier to fly from Canada to Europe than it is to the US because of ludicrous standards. And line ups and waits at airports seem to increase every year with another over-the-top precaution. Not all of them are but there are significantly stupid ones.

Many of us perhaps grew more fearful. Overall I haven’t, though it’s such reminders as this and close friends dying that tell me to enjoy every day and make it worthwhile. I still love and fear but I don’t let some threat keep me from doing the things I want, ever. And I will never understand nor condone that innocent lives should ever be taken just so some nutjob who wants to push his/her views on someone else can get attention. Here’s to world peace, letting us live and love and working at not hurting each other.

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Writing Update

It’s time for another writing update. Recently published pieces include “It’s Only Words” in the British Horror Anthology of Horror Anthologies, and the poem “Shadow Realms” in Witches & Pagans #23. The Aurora Awards voting is now open to Canadians. This is for Canadian speculative fiction, published anywhere in 2010. My poem “Of the Corn: Kore‘s Innocence” is nominated for the Aurora Award in poetry. If you want to see a list of the nominees and vote, you can do so here. Cost is $5.50 to vote unless you are attending the convention where the awards will be presented this fall. Voting is open until Oct. 15.

“A Book By Its Cover” is in the Mirror Shards anthology, which is now available online and will be out in print very soon.”Tasty Morsels” in Polluto #8 should soon be making its way to me from the other side of the pond in England. This story blends parts of Little Red Riding Hood with aspects of the goddess Diana. And the poem “Obsessions: or Biting Off More Than You Can Chew” should soon be out in the gothic anthology Candle in the Attic Window from Innsmouth Free Press. I have another poem, “Leda’s Lament” coming out in Bull Spec but I’m not sure when.

I also just received word that “Gingerbread People” will be in Chilling Tales 2, edited by Michael Kelly, and published by Edge Publishing sometime next year. This tale was hard to place because it uses the motif of Hansel and Gretel but is a dark tale of incest, drugs, abuse and murder. I wrote it based on infamous sociopath killers Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. My premise was, what is the nature of true evil and which is worse: the person who commits the crime or the person who convinces them to do it?

And in little over a week I’ll be traveling to Europe. I hope to do some work on my writing while I’m there. I will also be going to British Fantasycon so soon the posts here will change to travel and observations along the way. Before then I have one story to rewrite and send out.

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Grrr, Tough on Crime

crime, heroes, tough on crime, Captain Marvel, fighting,

Captain Marvel gets tough on crime (Marvel Comics)

Yet again, we’re hearing about the Harper government’s tough on crime slogan. I actually get shudders because this phrase just sounds a bit too much like the Bushism “War on Terror.” There’s a crusader’s zeal to it that means not taking measured steps or looking at issues sensibly. It’s a fervent belief that actually has no facts to support the need.

Crime in general and violent crime has been going down consistently in Canada, so what’s happening?

Well, on one level, you have a Conservative government with some scary religious zeal being redirected to where Canadians will find it more acceptable than true religious right-wing zealotry. Crime! Everyone hates crime and yes we want people to be punished for their misdeeds. But the government’s smoke and mirrors means they’re really spending relatively little on building more prisons for a crime rate that’s going done. Then in a few years when the greatly diminished statistics are available (because this government cut out a lot of what’s needed by statisticians) they can say, “Look what a great job we did.”

Hmm, in the meantime they haven’t spent money on crime prevention, which includes lessening poverty, providing education for children (including those who have learning disabilities), and helping people get away from drug addiction. Much better to throw the drug addicts in prison where they can become ever more hardened than try to rehabilitate.

The other half of this weird equation where crime is going down but it “looks” like it’s going up can be blamed on media. When I say media I mean all, from the comic above to all those TV shows and movies with violent criminals or sometimes savvy and cool and handsome ones (the thieves and internet heisters). This also includes radio, TV, newspaper and internet news. We are now supersaturated in the fat of tragedy. Every trauma, tragedy, disaster or crisis is reported on. We don’t get the news just twice a day, but every hour, in twitter, on the internet, in colour, with numerous graphic pictures. We get talk shows and articles until all we see is the DIRE HORRIBLE STATE OF THE WORLD. Aieeee!

No wonder the Conservative government can sell wasting money on more prisons when crime is going down (gang warfare however, is going up). It would be nice if the media went back to unbiased reporting, which means mentioned the good things in life too. How about a few more tales of human kindness and achievement, of the beauty in the world both natural and made by humans. I want to weep sometimes as the mess we’re making but we also have great creative beautiful minds and the majority of people aren’t criminals and really do want the world to be a better place. So while we stay tough on crime (England’s thugs, I’m talking to you) let’s also be gentle and uplifting with beauty.

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Travel Trips on Money

money, travel, euros, moneybelt

Creative Commons: Roby on Flickr

I’m planning a trip to Europe in September and thought I would get some of the preparation out-of-the-way. When I went to Ireland in 2007 I took some cash and traveler’s  checks and my sister took cash. But travelers’ checks, they’re kind of passé, aren’t they? A friend had pointed out that I could have used my bank card and I thought, well, duh. But then, could I?

moneybelt, traveling, travelers checks, passport holder, travel safety

Creative Commons from http://www.travelingcow.com

So I’ve started checking out a few factors. I thought the easiest thing to do would be to put a deposit of cash onto my credit card and then I could just charge items to the card and only pay the exchange rate. But guess what, because the credit card companies (Visa, MasterCard, and I presume American Express) don’t feel they’re gouging us enough with anywhere from 10 to 19% interest on our charges, they tack on a 2.5% charge for any transaction out of the country. For me, being Canadian, that means even a trip to the States will cost me extra on my card. I might be able to pay off my bill before the interest charge comes into effect but not for the 2.5%. Remember, on $1000 that would be an extra $25 for nothing.

Next I called my bank to ask about my debit card, which now has a chip. They said it probably would not work for point of sale transactions as each store in Europe would have to buy into a system and there is no reason they would be part of a North American system. I could use it at a bank machine that is part of the same network as mine (Cirrus in this case) but I would be most likely subjected to a fee from my bank (depends which network) as well as from the European bank machine, which could be as high as $6 per transaction. Well, that’s cheaper than Visa/MasterCard but still could add up and I’m stuck with withdrawing a daily limit. It’s best to check what that limit is.

It looks like I’ll be using a combination of bringing some Euros in cash that I can get from my bank (It’s best to warn them ahead of time so they have enough on hand) and travelers’ checks. Because I will most likely not do US travelers checks but Euros the bank might need three days to order them in. Travelers checks have about a 1% service charge so they’re cheaper than the credit cards. I’ll be getting them about two weeks before I go, just to make sure there are no glitches.

travel pouch, passport holder, money pouch, travel,

Creative Commons: Eagle Creek also has leg pouches http://www.amazon.com/Eagle-Creek/e/2210072011/ref=dp_apparel_byline_ety

I’ll arrive in Europe with Euros in cash, travelers’ checks that I can cash at a bank if nowhere else will take them (if you’re going to out-of-the-way places, make sure you cash these at a bank as many shops won’t take them anymore), and a credit card. I have a passport pouch that will hold my money and that I can wear around my neck. Some people favor money belts but I feel more secure with the neck pouch. It’s a matter of preference with these but they’re also an essential for travel when you’re bringing a fair amount of cash and to keep all your important information safe.

The other precaution I take beforehand is to write down all numbers into a booklet that is separate from my money. Should my credit card be stolen how do I call the number on the back of the card when I don’t have the card? I have it written down elsewhere with my credit card number. Emergency contacts, camera serial codes, passport number, travel insurance, etc. are all good things to record elsewhere. You can also send yourself an email that you could access on the internet with all the information. I did this with Ireland, in case my camera was stolen (unfortunately it was stolen from my home shortly after the Irish trip). You can also record your travelers check information, serial numbers and the company contact in case you lose them or run out of money.

No matter where one travels, it’s always good to keep alert and stay cautious. Don’t let your guard down and don’t flaunt all your cash. Take out what you need for the day and hide the rest. I’ll see how the other trip preparations go after this.

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Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?

The massacre in Norway is in some ways not new. Unfortunately, it’s a common enough scenario; yet another example of the endemic problem of judgment, racism or bigotry that infects this planet. Granted, there are people of unstable or extreme personality types such as narcissists who believe only they matter, or sociopaths who don’t really care about anything but their own gratification. I don’t know the statistics but I’m betting half of all massacres, multiple murders and suicide pacts are from unstable personalities. Religious temperament is probably responsible for the other half.

peace, war, fighting, getting along, coexisting, bigotry, racism

Creative Commons: co_exist_by_c3b4

If we rule out that all religious beliefs make you a little crazy or that racism is only practiced by nutjobs, then we have to believe that people have extreme views and sane minds. But what’s at the basis of all the bigotry and hate crimes?

It’s a belief that someone is “other.” I am green and you are purple. Therefore you are different, not like me, maybe an alien and I can’t trust you. Or: You believe the flying spaghetti monster is god and I believe in Cthulhu. Therefore you are evil and should be shot down for spreading spaghetti monster worship, which is wrong. This I believe.

These examples are all about judgment and belief. A belief that I am better, my way of seeing the world is right and yours is wrong for some reason. I believe I am more favored by god but somehow you’re not or bringing in the wrong god. But what does it offend? Our sensibilities?

I may not like you walking around and showing your plumber’s crack. I may believe your religion of wearing orange cones on your head is goofy. I might see you eating cucumbers as a sign of true evil or that when you sing you are opening a hole to the world of darkness. But no matter what I BELIEVE, what really matters is, are you hurting me?

I mean tangible hurt, not some imagined slight to your soul or psyche. To me this is what it all gets down to and what we should remember. I might not like it, but is it hurting me or do I still have my freedom of movement and thought? I believe, like or worship this. Does it hurt anyone? No. Then I can do it. I can marry the rock in my garden, make sweet love to a chocolate croissant or worship the almighty slug. I might be seen as deranged but I’m not dangerous.

So everyone needs to take a deep breath and in that moment of judgment and hate boiling up in your guts, just step back and ask: Is he/she hurting anyone? If not. Then leave them alone to live their lives as they please. After all, it’s what you would want people to give you.

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Foster Homes: Better the Hell You Know

foster parents, foster homes, children, family services, child abuse

Universal's Despicable Me is a film where fostering goes right

Yet again one of Canada’s ministries of children’s welfare is in the news because a child in their care died under questionable circumstances. This one’s in Alberta and after taking a four-month old baby from the mother the child died within a week of removal. The ministry, or department, seems to keep itself steeped in secrecy and obscuring the facts. These ministries were set up to rescue children from terrible situations in their families lives and give them a chance at a normal and healthy life.

It is even the stuff of movies and books; the child removed from the abuse at home and put into a foster home. The foster home becomes one jumping off point after another, because of neglect or a host of abuses. The child grows to be a teen, often on drugs, into prostitution and on the street. The teen grows to be a criminal adult. Those fictions and tropes are unfortunately built on fact. The movie Despicable Me is about a villain who takes on foster children as a cover. The results are hilarious and fun and with a turnabout that gives the children a good home. It’s a fantasy in many ways, but a good foster home is not something all children get.

There are good foster parents who do give a child a loving and stable home in their life. There was a case in Alberta a few years back of a foster mother who lost her right to foster, not because she was bad (in fact she had fostered many children well) but because she was a lesbian. Yet ministries in various provinces have time and again placed children in homes where the people were abusive (physically or sexually), alcoholics or drug users.  And of course the worst cases are where the children lost their lives due to being placed in a home possibly more horrific than the one they were in.

Imagine the nightmare of being a child and thinking you are saved to find the situation worse, or to be torn from the dysfunctional beings that you still love and placed with monsters who care nothing for your well-being. Sad and unfortunately no exaggeration for some. For Alberta last year, six children died and five of those were Aboriginal. Makes you wonder where the ministry is placing these children.

I know of someone whose mother was a foster parent. This woman, an only child, was placed in foster care at times by her own mother, because the mother could make more money raising other people’s children than her own. Eye witnesses report that this mother would be quite verbally abusive to a child she was caring for. I also know of a couple who rescued their relation from an abusive sibling. The sibling was unfit for several reasons to be a parent and they are giving that child a stable and loving relationship that he would not have recieved from his own parent.

There are good and bad foster homes but the governments who oversee these services need to screen the foster homes far better than they do, and get their facts straight. They need to charge the people who are killing the children and they need to clean up their own acts so that they can truly rescue children from a dire situation and put them in a safe environment. I guess I’m lucky that I only had my own dysfunctional family to deal with and didn’t have to face a foster parent as well.

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