Monday, October 25, 2010

Why Breaking Bad is Bad, and Good

So, what have I spent my entire weekend doing?

Watching the first two seasons of Breaking Bad, the award winning television series starring the dad from Malcolm in the Middle, playing essentially the exact same character - a downtrodden do-gooder who, at middle-age, has little to show for his life except a shrill, nagging wife, an ungrateful child, and a job teaching chemistry to students who’d rather be elsewhere. Diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer despite never having smoked, he decides to fuck it all and start a crystal meth lab.

(Disturbingly, it’s actually medically possible to get lung cancer and not be a smoker. In fact, between 10 and 20% of people with lung cancer have never smoked, with most research linking early onset of the disease to genetic, not environmental, factors. Lung cancer remains the deadliest of all forms of cancer, and apparently no one is safe. Sleep tight.)

The show is well-acted, well-written, and all around pretty great. It’s always fun to see a downtrodden good guy become a kick-ass bad guy, and that’s what this show is all about.

The one thing that bothers me, half way through the second series, is that no one has once brought up the ethical implications of producing crystal meth. Obviously, the main character knows he’s breaking the law and producing a banned substance, and in dealing with the existing drug culture he brushes shoulders with some seriously sketchy characters and crosses some major ethical boundaries...but meth itself is treated, generally, like a microcosm of illegal drugs in general (like acid and pot), when really it’s not. Meth is seriously scary shit.

I’m generally a live-and-let live sort of person, so please take any advice I give with a large grain of salt and ultimately live your life however you feel is best, but that being said: do NOT do meth. Ever. Do not even think about doing meth. Do not partake in allowing others to do methamphetamine. Crystal meth seriously fucks up lives.

Remember back in the 1960s, when all the parents were freaking out about their teenagers embracing sunshine and smoking low-potency marijuana? How they assumed it was instantly addictive and would turn their children into psychopathic miscreants, when really all it did was make them chill out and give them the munchies?

Well, crystal meth actually IS addictive and turns children into psychopathic miscreants. It is one of the hardest drugs to kick and, at high doses, causes psychosis which is clinically indistinguishable from schizophrenia. At low doses, it leads to seriously fucked up behaviour, teeth rotting, and skin picking, often leading to serious disfigurement, infection, and scarring. Many of the kids in their early twenties, now homeless and battling addiction, are the same kids who we diagnosed with ADD and fed amphetamines to some ten years back. I have met a lot of these kids, and they make me sad and scared...for them, for myself, and for society.

Because we can produce it on home ground, in meth labs, we have yet to curb the rampant supply of methamphetamine, and the numbers of fucked up young people continues to balloon.

Pot, acid and mushrooms should all probably be decriminalized, and I’m all in favor of doctor-prescribed heroin and other opiates to curb addiction, a la NAOMI project. Apparently that red bull I just drank has trace amounts of cocaine. So, whatever. But meth, producing meth, and allowing meth to exist...not cool.

Also, the way to solve meth?

Restrict ALL the ingredients, keeping tabs on customers who purchase any of the major ingredients used to cook. In fact, let's go back to making cough drops prescription only, please, or at the very least keep them behind the pharmaceutical counter. Nobody needs pseudoephederine, and there are just too many ways to abuse cough syrup, like using it to drug up your whiny kids (apparently a very common practice).

And those are my thoughts on Breaking Bad.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Family War Stories

Who doesn’t like obscure and adorable anecdotes from other people’s family history? Probably a lot of people, but that isn’t going to stop me.

Being a small and gaelic person, my lineage is made up of Scottish and Irish folk who, at different times and for different reasons, decided to flee their oppressed homelands for the possibility of a better life in the new world. (Also, there’s probably a bit of Swedish in there, thanks to repeated rades and rapings by attacking viking ships on Irish and Scottish shores, but that’s a different story for a different day.)

Some of the last to cross the pond were my mother’s father’s family, headed by my great grandmother Jean and her collection of assorted children. They hailed from the working class of Glasgow.
Being of fertile Scottish stock, Jean had born two sets of twins and a total of five children to her husband, Herbert. Jean then decided that she didn’t like Herbert any more, got a divorce (which was not easy - think 1930s), and went to work for a living whilst raising five children on her own. Since this was also in the midst of the great depression, Glasgow-style, we can assume that money was tight.*

(*Thus began my family legacy of single-motherhood and deadbeat dads - in my childhood home, my mother’s home, and my grandfather’s, father figures were few and far between. In the case of Jean’s youngest son, who became my grandfather, this was not a result of willful abandonment so much as premature death...but I think the term deadbeat still applies.)

Somehow, Jean resisted the urge to eat her young, and the family of six survived until the second world war, which is when this story begins. (Sorry about all that preamble - complicated character relationships and necessitated introductions are the major failing of most family-history tales. Of which this is no exception. Fail.)

When war was declared in September of 1939, many families living in urban centres decided to ship out their children to the relatively deserted and assumedly safer countryside. The inhabitants of the countryside were ordered to patriotically provide free child care for the next five years, and urban mothers tearfully kissed their city-spawn goodbye, as they boarded trains for rural pastures and an education in shoveling cow manure.

Many misunderstandings, beatings, and charming tales of cultural differences resulted from this forced merging of urban and rural worlds. 

Jean, living in Glasgow with her five children - aged sixteen, sixteen, thirteen, eleven, and eleven - decided to ship off her youngest three children, post haste.

Arriving in an isolated village, with no eager volunteers offering to take in the sudden influx of needy children, the family was separated further - Bert (eleven) went to live in one house, whilst Joe and Bob (thirteen and eleven) were eventually taken in by another.

This other house was lived in by a middle-aged brother and sister, neither of whom had married. If you can imagine living in a isolated, repressed society, never having even a little bit of sex, and being stuck growing old with your sibling after your parents died, having never left your family home, then you can imagine the sort of deep-seeded resentment and bitterness towards all things living that resonated within this household. Plus, this was rural Scotland...think Groundskeeper Willy (times two).

The sister was described and cranky and controlling, and her dislike of the children - what with their propensity to occasionally smile, talk, and be merry - was immediately apparent. The brother was the lesser parental nightmare, described mostly as cowed and submissive, although occasionally affectionate - at least once, he gave the children candy, ensuring that there were absolutely no witnesses and his sister would never ever find out on penalty of death. Together, the siblings made their living operating a family vegetable shop and associated garden.

Joe, being the older child in their care, did her best to look after her brother despite the challenges faced in their living situation. The children went to school, visited with their happier sibling Bert, and endured the coming months who a stoic stiff-upper lip.  At Christmas time, relative safety in Glasgow allowed them to go home for a visit, during which they were swathed with affection and cuddles from their mother and sisters. They received toys for gifts, ate their rationed Christmas feast and, with only a minimal amount of begging, pleading, and clinging to the platform edge, found themselves on board their train, heading back towards their country safe-home.

Sometime after the Christmas visit, Joe, who was now fourteen, found herself teetering towards a breaking point. No doubt, the winters in the rural enclaves of central Scotland were not a thing to be messed with, and as war in Europe raged onwards, the possibility of spending not only many more months, but even years, living with the bitter proprietors of a vegetable shop was a growing and grim reality.

The day finally came when their guardians went too far. This was sparked by a darning of socks belonging to young Bob, alongside a comment to Joe that, instead of toys, their mother would have done well to give her children practical gifts at Christmas. Joe, apparently incensed by this wanton criticism of her single mother’s parenting skills and gift-selecting capabilities, decided that she had had more than enough.

Taking Bob in hand, Joe decided to run away. It was decided that Bert, living in relative happiness in another home, was either too difficult to get to, or simply not important enough. Whatever. Bob and Joe were going home to Glasgow, and that was that. The simplest means of transportation was decided to be by train, if and when they could manage to safely sneak aboard.

Leaving the house early, the two followed the railway tracks in the general direction of Glasgow, ducking in ditches whenever approached by a passing car. In total, they walked twenty-six miles, forty-two kilometres, or the length of your average marathon, before they managed to sneak aboard a passenger train. Once inside, they locked themselves in a bathroom stall, thus avoiding the conductor, the authorities, and the issue of having no money to pay their fare.

Elsewhere, adults had noticed the disappearance of the children and were beginning to get worried. It was assumed that the children would likely try and make it to the city - but whether on route they died of exposure or were picked up by kidnapping child molesters - that was anyone’s guess. Jean began meeting every arriving train, while her eldest daughter waited at the bus station, hoping to intercept the fugitive offspring there. Authorities offered what little comfort they could - were the children not found by the following morning, they would begin the process of dragging the river.

It was thus with mixed emotion - joy, relief, uncompromising rage - that Joe and Bob were reunited with their mother on the platform of the Glasgow train station. Tears, hugs, and terse words abounded, and the family went home. Ultimately, because of her age, Joe was allowed to stay in the city, working in an office and eventually repairing radios for the British air-force at age sixteen.

Bob was forced back to the country once again, but, in light of recent events, the decision was made not the billet him with the aging vegetable shop siblings. The family housing Bert offered to make room for both twins, and so Bob spent the remainder of his war years there with his brother, before returning to Glasgow to find work as a merchant marine.