Saturday, 27 June 2009

Unnerving Dream



-Those with the greatest awareness have the greatest nightmares.
Mahatma Ghandi

The worst types of dreams are sometimes the ones that have a backdrop of regular life- with something normal happening, after which a terrible scenario ensues. Upon waking, you realise these things could and do happen.

I think it’s a weakness in my character that I don’t like not understanding things. I hate the feeling that something is beyond my knowledge and I have to deal with situations blindly- like waking up with an image of something violent and worrying (and possible) in my head. I had to continue my dream research. Why do we dream? And, king of clich├ęs- what do they mean?

One recent dream revolved around picking up an ex-girlfriend in a dusty, gravel car park, and showing off in front of her and her mates by cranking full lock on and wheel-spinning, sending the car round like a lasso. It’s a childish, chavvish display that I would never attempt in reality.

The ex loved it though, and ran up to the car, squealing with amazement. She was apparently not the best at judging moving objects, however, and I felt a clunk as my back wheels ran her down. I’d gone full circle again, slamming the Skoda estate over her body a second time ‘til I registered- with a gut-wrenching feeling of doom- how moronic I had been, and the immense consequence of my stupidity.

The one redeeming feature about terrible dreams is the get-out-of-jail-free card that you instantly pull upon waking. I’ve lost count of the amount of horrific, twisted scenarios- far more violent and brutal than this one- that I’ve imagined when dreaming. But however bad these dreams could be, I’ve woken up and thought, thank fuck. That’s a weight off my mind! For the moment, at least- I am a free and innocent man.

For the record, I’m still on good terms with said ex girlfriend. This makes her suicide-by-Matt bid all the more weird… Why dream of doing something that you’d never want to happen?

Before going to bed and having this dream, I had indulged in an only-slightly-oversized glass of Highland Park Twelve-year-old. Of all the whiskies I’ve tried (and there have been a few) this hits the spot more than any other. Not in terms of sending me to sleep (although it does), but Goddamn, it’s a fine whisky. “The greatest all rounder in the world of malt whisky”, says The Malt Whisky Companion. I’m prepared to agree.

I was wondering whether there might be a connection between alcohol and dreams- and whether food affects these scenarios.

Medscape.com, a medical-orientated news site, shed light on how alcohol reduces healthy sleep time.

“Withdrawal symptoms (of healthy sleep) may include shallow sleep and multiple awakenings, REM rebound associated with nightmares or vivid dreams, sweating, and general activation. Therefore, although alcohol may be effective in sleep induction, it impairs sleep during the second half of the night and can lead to a reduction in overall sleep time.”

I had the feeling that alcohol might give me weird dreams. I was wrong. Everybody has weird dreams, regardless of whether or not they drink. In fact, alcohol delays the brain from entering the second, deeper phase of sleep- when REM occurs. So it seems that alcohol prevents you from dreaming in the way you should. It’s a wonder I remembered running my ex down at all.

I ploughed on with dream research. Macalester College, in Minnesota, has a detailed psychology website describing the effects of sleep depravation on rats.

“Ultimately, REM deprivation in rats is fatal. One of the main symptoms during this time was hypothermia, despite observable effects to increase heat production (e.g., by eating). This has led to the hypothesis that the function of REM is to prevent heat loss.”

-macalester.edu

So. This is the missing conclusive point to my previous dream blog, “Weird Dream”, in which I tried to nail down what dreams are in the first place. Dreams are the byproduct of your brain keeping your body warm while you sleep.

Doctors sometimes advise people that- even though while you are asleep your body congeals food into fat- getting more sleep can usually be an effective factor in the task of losing weight.

Also, we can conclude that the doctor in Fight Club was wrong. You can die from insomnia. It would take a very long time, we can presume, although psychologytoday.com reports that there are “no recorded human fatalities.”

“The most notable finding from REM deprivation studies in humans is that the number of attempts that a person makes to go into REM while asleep greatly increases. After the deprivation is complete, the deprived person will experience a REM rebound, which is a significant increase in the percentage of time spent in REM over normal levels. This REM rebound can last for several nights.”

-Macalaster.edu

So dreams act like sleep itself- if you deprive yourself of it, you’ll have REM rebound: a backlog of dreaming to experience later.

“Often nightmares are caused by stress, traumatic experiences, emotional difficulties, drugs or medication, or illness. However, some people have frequent nightmares that seem unrelated to their waking lives. Recent studies suggest that these people tend to be more open, sensitive, trusting, and emotional than average.”

- asdreams.org, the International Association for the Study of Dreams

Well. As a blogger I think I’ve spent enough time discussing my weaknesses. But this seems to correlate, to a degree. I have actually had less warped, disturbed dreams than I used to, which I guess is a good sign.

So it’s off to the land of nod again soon, after I’ve finished this glass of Glayva liqueur. I’ll tell you what happens. Night, all.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Human Nature

HUMAN NATURE

“The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
-Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) Wall Street

So… it has been revealed by The Daily Telegraph that our Members of Parliament claimed every penny they could on their expenses- down to paperclips and a one-pence phone bill.

Oh, we’re all so angry. Am I? Yes, of course I am. As a struggling administrator with learning difficulties, who’s just had his Working Tax Credits inexplicably revoked, I am more than disgusted at the government’s collective behaviour.

But then, I always have been. It occurs to me, however, that the behaviour displayed by our MPs is all that can be expected from the authorities.

If somebody offers you money or gifts, it takes a strong will to decline them. Especially when “the rules” dictate that there is nothing wrong with taking them.

Our MPs say that even though they admitted to claiming these expenses, they still acted “within the rules”. What a massive insult this is to the Great British public. They are Members of Parliament! They make the rules!

In 37AD, Roman Emperor Caligula went mad, made his horse a senator, sentenced several other “untrustworthy” human senators to death (their guilt heavily doubted by the Roman public), committed incest with his sisters and caused starvation by wasting money on opulent, unneeded architectural structures.

Those of you familiar with the Millennium Dome in London or Manchester’s decaying B of the Bang sculpture can imagine the public’s disgust with Caligula. It could be argued that it is only a matter of time before our ridiculous government plumbs the depths as far as he did.

The point that I am making is that those in charge are foolish to say they are acting “within the rules”. This statement bears little relevance when they made those rules themselves. Hazel Blears, Labour MP for Salford for instance, claimed £13,000 worth of expenses and has now stepped down from her Communities Secretary post. This is despite her belief that she has done nothing wrong. Her following proposal to pay back that money shed further doubt on her innocence.

It may be too late to stop this dark chapter of British politics from unfolding, but here’s my proposed solution: we should take inspiration from the Catholic Church. Many people cringe at the thought of slamming politics and religion together. In today’s world with numerous faiths being practiced within the same countries and growing atheism, religion becomes a veritable minefield for those in power. Who can forget George W Bush’s cringe worthy claim that his invasion of Afghanistan was “A mission from God”? Hopefully, however, my suggestion won’t result in as many heads in hands.

Hundreds of years ago, the Church had a system for declaring people as “saints”. If a person wanted to be canonised, i.e. recognised by the Church as a saint, they (or their representatives) would put forward a case proving the candidate’s worthiness of sainthood. In order for the church to offer a balanced case, however, it was necessary to have a person in the system to act as opposition. This person would stop every Tom, Dick and Harry (and most Matthews, Marks, Lukes and Johns) from waltzing in and acquiring sainthood. This person was referred to as the Devil’s Advocate, and his job was to find fault in people.

Currently at Westminster, laws proposed by the party in power (Labour) can be challenged by opposing parties (usually the Conservatives) if it is felt that new laws and motions are inappropriate or problematic.

I may be rambling about something I know nothing about here, but consider this plan:

The government hires someone not previously involved in politics. They would ideally live in a modest home and receive a modest, steady wage. A levelheaded, respectable individual, they would have enough common sense to tell right from wrong (something most politicians lack, given the current state of affairs). Perhaps a courtroom judge could be a good candidate for the post. Using this common sense, their job is to act as a modern-day “Devil’s Advocate” for the Houses of Parliament. Among other things, they stop inappropriate expenditure and deny questionable expenses claims - like we are currently seeing on MPs’ expense sheets at the moment.

The Telegraph’s latest findings show MPs have claimed for flapjack, a ten-grand office refurbishment, bleach, DVDs, face cream, a toilet brush, the removal of a wasp’s nest, lamps in the shape of elephants, horse manure, jellied eels, a hedge-trimming job around a helipad (go on, rub it in), Chicken and Turkey Dog food, something being referred to as “the mother of all wigs” (your guess is as good as mine), three TVs and three shredders (all six claimed by one MP simultaneously) and – here’s the best one- a £47 claim by Shadow Chancellor George Osbourne for two DVDs of HIS OWN speech. It gets better: the speech was on “Value for Taxpayer’s Money”!

Only in Britain, hey?

The political “Devil’s Advocate” technique I described would prevent a part of human nature from damaging the political system in Britain. That damaging natural trait is greed.

People criticise our politicians for being greedy. However, I do not. I criticise the system for allowing our MPs’ greed to affect their jobs, inadvertently pushing them into the spotlight.

No doubt somebody will suggest that the opposition I describe is already in place, in effect, in the Houses of Parliament. New laws are created in this Westminster building: they are bounced between the House of Commons and the House of Lords before being finalised and implemented, but this method of law laying clearly isn’t working.

If Caligula’s political techniques seem old-fashioned, and mine seem impractical, maybe we should take a leaf out of Croatia’s book.

Bizarre news site Ananova.com reports: ‘Josko Risa was voted in as mayor in Prolozac with a landslide victory using the slogan: "All for me - nothing for you."… A local commented- “We're going to get ripped off no matter who takes over. At least he's being honest and up front about it. And he has said that if things get better for him then they will get better for us."’

The Croatian public perhaps didn’t realise that his explanation didn’t match up with his slogan. Perhaps it really is impossible to be honest and well intentioned in politics.

Croatia may be irreversibly broken, like many countries in the world, but there is hope for Britain in all of this. In a government full of plastic smiles, greed and empty promises, comes a shining light… in the form of an Amstrad logo.

Computer pioneer and Apprentice headman Sir Alan Sugar, possibly the meanest man ever to receive a knighthood, is soon to be made a Lord for the Labour party.

Don’t get me wrong- I don’t particularly like the guy. But I admire Sir Alan for his fearless attitude and his skills as a businessman, achieving things that I just plain couldn’t. I only hope his no-nonsense attitude rubs off on other politicians.

Oh, and by the way- the guy’s a multimillionaire. In 2007 he sold AMSTRAD for £125 Million. He then sold a further £22 Million’s worth of shares in football club Tottenham Hotspurs. The chances of him claiming back expenses in politics are possible, but not likely by any means. I can’t imagine him having the time to take the pen out of his pocket. I also doubt he’d be corrupted by any major power trip that could develop in a career in high-level politics. He’s had enough of that power coursing through his veins since his twenties.

If Sir Alan were made Prime Minister I would trust him to drag us, kicking and screaming, through the gauntlet of today’s economic difficulties. I would also trust him to put a leash on his MPs, thus preventing them from attaining benefits and claims that they could quite comfortably afford from their salaries.

With a stranglehold on the greed that we all feel regardless of how much or how little we make- the greed that is part of human nature- the government (with Sir Alan at it’s helm) could set an example of how best to handle money. And handling money, I thought, was what politics was all about.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The Machines


My eyes strain under the purposefully dim flickering halogen light strips, as I follow the dank dungeon tunnel. My wrist is beginning to hurt as I point this oversized gun into the corridor. This model can kill anything I point it at.

But if I were to die right now, it wouldn’t matter.

Through the dull drone of a generator somewhere inside the complex, another distant machine hums. I’m listening.

At least the power’s still on. The company has a habit of cutting it without warning, and always at the wrong moment.

The ‘bot emerges fast, tracks rotating, driving toward me. I aim for the engine, trigger depressed, as its side mounted arsenal returns fire. My pulse quickens, noticeably forcing itself under the skin on my trigger finger. The machine’s radar and camera explode, but not even the protective metal body suit- tailored to fit, typically- can deflect the bombardment of enemy bullets. I keep firing. I don’t even feel the heat. I only register adrenaline, or anger, as it pumps through me like a hard drug to which I am addicted. My reinforced visor eventually cracks, distorting my vision. The synapses fire wildly around my brain, causing me to crave destruction, the nozzle of the weapon blazing with equal ferocity.

The ‘bot lies on its side now, blackened by the rounds from my gun. I edge past it towards a tunnel opening, avoiding the massive barrels still spraying fire into the tunnel and chipping the concrete floor.

Emerging to a battered, scorched landscape, I realise the acid rain will rust my armour, slowing me, if refuge isn’t found soon.

I have never seen this part of the land before. I can hear the low hum of the rescue ship’s engine, ready to lift me. The ground should tremble with the bass, but it doesn’t…

I look up, excited- the ship, also new to me, is immense. The end, for the moment at least, is near.

Bullets whip into the ground around me. I spin to the tunnel entrance as another bot fires off rounds, damaging my metal exoskeleton. Through cracked glass I see my own ammo rip into this pig-sized tank, making it squeal as the hardware short-circuits. Its engine erupts in a ball of fire as pride swells in my throat. I don’t smell the burning fuel or feel the heat from the blast, but I register only the urge to keep my finger on the trigger. In a matter of seconds I will be safe-

The screen goes black, and my lamp turns off. Across the street a burglar alarm rings.

“Fuck!”

I throw the joypad on the carpet as the monitor emits a diminishing crackle of static. Another power cut. I didn’t even save the game. I want to kill something.