Thursday, November 30, 2006

It's done...

I've finally done it ... I've put labels on all my posts - well, on all those which really deal with something else than just the blog itself. I don't see the point in labelling the posts about what's new in my blog or what I plan to do next. I've also entered extra spaces to make sure the posts are easier to read.

Expect some new posts about more or less serious issues during the next days.

A sad goodbye

Yesterday, while checking my favourite Blogs - which you can find easily through the links on the right side of this Blog - I was sad to learn that "Diary of Barbie's Worst Enememy", a very good Blog for feminist issues, seems to have ended. While I can surely understand the reasons for it's end (you can check them out by simply going to the Blog and read them for yourself), I'm still a bit sad because I liked checking on it every day and reading the new and mostly very interesting posts.

I'm definitely not closing this Blog, I've just started. But then, it's not a Blog about one special topic, it's a Blog about everything I'm interested in and thinking about. I can see it can be difficult to continue a Blog when you realize there are a lot of people going on about the same things you mention yourself. I'm also sure there are others out there writing about the same stuff I go on about ... but I like putting in my two cents whenever possible, so I won't stop doing it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The dark world of Kaori Yuki

I like dark stories and unlike some other people, especially in Germany, I'm not ashamed about it at all. I am 32 and still read Manga and I'm not afraid to admit that either. As a result of my tastes, one of my favourite Manga artists is Kaori Yuki.

She has a very special style with a lot more grey than most other artists I know. Manga tend to be black/white mostly, as they are printed without any colours. The only thing an artist can use to create different shades in a picture is grey. Mostly this is done with special foil that brings structures (from a simple dot pattern right up to complete shapes like hearts done in dots) into the picture. Kaori Yuki uses those, of course, most Manga artists do. She even uses more of them than most other artists. What fascinates me about her pictures is the intensity the reaches through those fairly simple means. She gives her pictures a surprising depth for a simple Manga (which in Japan is considered something to read and throw away, we're not talking about lasting art here).

I first came in contact with her style when "Angel Sanctuary" was published in Germany. It's up to the present her longest running series, complete in 20 volumes of softcover pocketbooks. The background of the story is a dark one, telling of the disappearance of god and the effects this had on Heaven and subsequently on Earth as well. I will not go around retelling the whole story here, but it's complicated and sometimes full of surprises.

Short stories, gathered in the two paperbacks "Boys next door" and "Neji - Screw" followed soon afterwards. "Boys next door" contains stories about gruesome happenings in more or less everyday life, while all three stories of "Neji - Screw" are centred around a young boy who is deadly wounded and awakes in a future in which he's supposed to just be a little piece (like a screw) in the machinery, something against which he rebels.

Then her second longer series was published as well: "God Child", one of my all time favourites. "God Child" is set in a Victorian environment and deals with madness, murder and the occult - all things I'm really interested in. Besides, for a drawn character both the hero of the tale, Cain C. Hargreaves, and one of his adversaries, Dr. Jezebel Disraeli, are quite cute (check the end of this post for a little picture of Dr. Disraeli's cute SD-form).

Recently four more one-volume paperbacks have been published in German, namely "Ludwig Revolutions", "Bloodhound", "Gravel Kingdom" and "Cruel Fairytales". "Ludwig Revolutions" retells four European fairytales (Snow White, Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty and Bluebeard) with certain changes, making them all revolve around a prince named Ludwig searching for a bride. "Bloodhound" is a vampire story in which the vampires actually are the good guys - mostly. It's more funny than it sounds. Both "Gravel Kingdom" and "Cruel Fairytales" are collections of short stories with similar background ("Gravel Kingdom" mostly deals with fantasy environments, while "Cruel Fairytales" is based on crime stories).

What I like most about Kaori Yuki's stories, however, is the way she manages to combine horror, death, blood and crimes with humour. This makes for an interesting reading and, as is always the case in such combinations, even intensifies the dark aspects of the story.

© 2000 Kaori Yuki

One of the real reasons for people running amok: mobbing

As I had expected, the discussion about violent computer games - also known as 'Killerspiele' in Germany - is already decreasing. As some people in the MangasZene-forum pointed out, there were more sensible voices this time, especially in the more local newspapers, and thus the politicians seem to have realized the voters won't fall for it this easily this time. I didn't expect changes in the German law anyway ... that didn't work out last time either.

The question still remaining is why. Why did the young man take a couple of antique guns with him, added some explosives to them and went into his school to kill? The easy answer, the one he's given himself over the internet before he went out that fateful day, is "because I was treated like shit by the others, because I was beaten and humiliated". It's always the same answer, every time a young man runs amok and kills others, no matter whether it's in Germany, in the United States or elsewhere.

But almost unnoticed from the public in Germany - because they're not really interested in it -, another long-lasting, oppressing situation has reached a new dimension somewhere else in the world. In Japan pupils who want to commit suicide (Japanese students are in fact more likely to commit suicide than any others in the world) have started writing letters to the ministry, describing their reasons. Most of them were indeed mobbed. There we do have the connection to the case in Germany, but people don't see it. Japanese students, who stand next to no chance of acquiring a gun, kill themselves when they feel the humiliation and the pressure of their parents (success from first day in kindergarten is considered necessary in Japan, because it's the only way to end up in an important university and thus get a good job) gets too much for them.

Mobbing is not just something done in Japan, as another thread in the MangasZene-forum I participated lively in shows. A lot of those writing posts there were mobbed in school, but we (yes, I've been mobbed in school as well, but was lucky as it stopped after a few years) survived and came out relatively unscarred - though we all carry the scars on our soul and will go on carrying them for the rest of our lives. Mobbing is an everyday occurrence in schools and at work places everywhere.

It seems to get more and more with the pressure on students and workers rising. Students have to be better these days as they had to in the past. Work is getting scarce and those who want to work one day or have gotten a job are under pressure to be better than all the rest. Those who think they cannot keep up try to gain a better position by bullying those better, but less inclined to fight. This whole 'survival of the most aggressive' starts at school where those with more strength or more influence in class take out their aggressions on those weaker and/or less influential. It continues at work, where those with more influence - even if they have less abilities - bully those with more abilities and less influence.

Unfortunately society seems to have forgotten that the behaviour of its members - and we're all members of society - can be controlled. If we, that is all members of our society, make it clear from the very beginning, that all forms of mobbing, physical and mental, are not at all tolerated, we can make life more worthwhile for all of us. Bosses at work will realize that there will be less sick days, because there will not be mobbed people who get sick due to the treatment of the mobbers. Students will be more able to concentrate on school without having to fear troubles because they get good grades.

It's not easy work we will have to do, it will be hard to teach children from early age that bullying someone just because he's weaker is not okay. And we'll have to stick together on this. Teaching children empathy will be the most important part, because somebody who can imagine what another person is feeling will be less inclined to hurt this other person. Acting immediately at school or at work when mobbing occurs will be another important part, because it will make absolutely clear that the mobber(s) are those who will have to suffer the consequences (up to the point where they and not the victim will have to leave). Of course there will be no 100 percent success, this can't happen with anything. Just as there are still murderers around, there will always be people bullying others. But just as every murderer will have to pay a high price for his crimes (and no, I don't mean the Death Penalty, I'm absolutely set against that), so will the mobber.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Mystery of the High-Priced Clothes Shops

I've also got a lighter note for today.

It's something I've been wondering about for quite some time now. I live in a small city in southern Germany. It's got a population of about 45,000 people - that's not large, not even by German standards.

The strange thing about my hometown is this: it's got far too many clothes stores. You might think that I exaggerate, but that's not the case. Compared to the number of other shops we've really got too many clothes stores (I'd say about 30 to 40 percent of all stores, but I've not counted and computed). They go bankrupt quite often, as you might expect, but after one of those stores has closed, another one is opened, usually somewhere in the vicinity or even in the same building.

Most of them are high-priced and I often wonder whom they expect to shop there. We're not a big city, there aren't many very rich people around and they probably shop for clothes somewhere else anyway. It's become a hard task to buy clothes to average prices in the city (but we're getting a C&A, a renown group of clothes stores, next year), but you could buy high-priced clothes in a dozen or more shops. Given the fact that unemployment has not stayed away from my hometown either (we've currently got about 10 percent of the population in unemployment in Germany), only few people are still ready to spent much money on their clothes. So why - and that's the main question here - do people still open those shops?

I've not got a theory about that. Given the fact that most shops close quite soon after they've been opened, I would expect possible owners of other clothes shops to reconsider their plans and maybe open the shop in the next bigger city around. Obviously they don't think like this. Given the fact that from looking at people passing you by you can tell they're not really fashion victims, I would expect people to think "they won't buy high-priced clothes just because they're fashionable or from a certain designer". Obviously that doesn't cross their minds either. We've got a large factory outlet not too far away and most people interested in fashionable clothes will drive there, because things are cheaper. We've got a big city with a lot of clothes shops about twenty minutes by train away, so a lot of people shop for clothes there. Why open a high-priced clothes shop in my hometown?

I just don't get it ... but I find it amusing to watch them at a grand opening one week and the clearance sale a couple of weeks or months later.

The same discussion again...

Another magazine has taken up the topic of 'Killerspiele' I've wrote so much about recently. They, too, obviously lack real information - or avoid relaying all information that doesn't fit with their view of computer games.

First of all I always wonder how psychologists are so sure the games make people more violent. I would rather think that only those who feel the pull of violence will be interested in such games. And those who play them may then perform violence in real life as well ... but does that mean that they would not have done the same without the games? We've had violence among teenagers - mostly from teenage boys - before computer games. At that time violent movies (usually seen on video as that was before the DVD) were usually claimed to be the reason for such behaviour. We'll probably have even more violence in the future, but it doesn't matter whether those games are still available then. I think we'll have more violence because life gets less and less secure for teenagers these days - and as boy perform less and less good at school, they will more probably not get a good job. Actually this afternoon I saw an interview with a psychologist who said that this theory (violence in games can make people more prone to using violence in reality) was still mostly unproven. He was probably more honest than the rest, because admitting that a far-spread theory is not proven takes more courage than just saying it is.

Second, the main reason why the quota of girls leaving Gymnasium (the highest ranking form of secondary school in Germany, roughly to be compared to high school plus undergraduate courses at college) with high marks has by now topped the quota of boys does not necessarily have to be that the girls spent their time learning and the boys spent their time playing games. Is it so impossible that the girls these days (and even about 20 years ago a lot of people in Germany still argued against girls attending the Gymnasium by pointing out that they would marry anyway and that this form of education was wasted on them) just are more focused on a goal ... like for example getting a high-paid job or becoming a scientist? Girls mature fasten than boys, that's become obvious by now. They go through most phases of puberty about two years earlier than the boys - which means they will lose interest in learning for a while about two years earlier as well and be focused on learning again by the time it becomes really important. I went through that phase at around 14 for the last time … and that means I had six more years to make up for the laziness. A boy going through it at sixteen or seventeen will more likely decide to leave school - especially as he has the right to do so at sixteen in Germany. So the girl will recover, concentrate on learning again and leave school with good marks and the chance to go to university, while the boy will drop out and thereby not have a chance to make it, just because of this phase. He might play a lot of violent games at that time, he might feel like a god, but that's not so different from a girl spending her time with her friend chatting or shopping or flirting with boys during her phase. Both put their own interests before their education.

Third I was most surprised to hear that people think the main goal for the producers of violent computer games was to sell them to German teenagers. Germany is a large market for computer games, that's true, but mostly the game industry focuses on the United States and Japan, which are more important markets and don't have such a problem with violence. They even cut the games for the German market before trying to sell them, mostly as far as certain symbols (usually those connected to the NS-regime) are concerned. The same goes for violence, which is one reason why for example the 'dead' zombies in the German version of "Half Life" just sit down while they lie on the ground in the American version ... and why blood quite often is green in those games.

What most magazines seem to ignore when it comes to "how has this young man been turned into a shooter" is the fact that in Germany (where it's quite hard to buy a gun legally) most of those who've run amok have been members of associations of sport shooters. There they have learned how to handle a gun, there they've had their 'training' in the real world. While you might train your reflexes in the virtual reality, you still have to train your body in the real world as well ... just because you have played "Counter Strike" you can't necessarily handle a real gun as well. So why is it 'bad' if a boy of sixteen plays "Counter Strike", but 'good' if he becomes a member of the association of sport shooters in his hometown?

It is true that games are sold to people officially too young to play them. There are a lot of 10-year-olds who own games with an age-restriction of '16'. But that's not because of the industry, it's because the shops don't do their job at controlling the sale. In the end those who should be guarding what their children see are not the sales-people or those creating computer games, but the parents. As long as they are not ready to really listen to what their children have to say about their games, as long as they are not interested in what their children do in their spare time, as long as they only see the simple black and white-pictures of the journalists about those games, they'll never have a chance to stop their children from playing games they shouldn't play.

A child always can get games it shouldn't get, there are various ways to even get games that may not be sold in Germany at all. Most of them are illegal, but that's not something kids care about. And with every "this game is bad, I heard it in the news" the children will respect their parents' view of the game less, because they know more about the games than the journalists do, obviously.

News and Updates...

It seems as if I have 'infected' my father with the Blog-virus. He's decided to start his own Blog today and so I helped him to get the basics done. You can find the link to his Blog in my list of Blogs.

I've also changed the looks of my Blog recently and finally managed to incorporate my Yahoo-Avatar and my virtual pets. Other things may follow later...

I've also updated on the new beta of It might take some time to put the labels in my former posts, I'm not yet sure whether I'm going to do it.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Something different, but somehow related

Another topic for today ... and a new one for my blog: Barbie.

Normally I'm not really somebody who goes around 'Barbie-bashing'. But especially while listening to people going on about the way violent computer games form the minds and morals of boys, I started wondering about how Barbie forms the minds and morals of girls. In fact one of the people in the discussion I mentioned in the last post said he was just waiting for the person running amok who was addicted to playing with Barbie. There's never going to be one ... because guns are not sold in pink.

I played with Barbie when I was a young girl ... I don't think any woman in Germany my age has never played with a Barbie doll in her life. But it seems as if I played with mine differently. I used my Barbie, as most of my other toys, to tell stories. My Barbie did have a lot of clothes - mostly sewn or knitted by my mother, so thank you very much for the hours you spent supporting my dreams, mama - and played a lot of roles, but she wasn't just the model, the princess, the young grown-up. She was an adventurer, a princess who fought for herself instead of waiting for Prince Charming to rescue her. She was a private investigator, a tough girl (I actually used a Playmobil-handgun as a pistol, because you wouldn't get such an accessory for Barbie and I felt a PI needed a gun). And because I was good at it, I mostly got my friends to play my games instead of me playing theirs ... even if they took the lead, playing normal family or models or something, I always found a way to make my doll a bit more active, less 'girly', less typical Barbie. She wasn't the top model, but she was the one taking care of the others, making sure they were treated well and didn't get sick because of the long work hours. She was a family member who looked out for dangers and made sure her younger sister(s) (that was in a time when Skipper still was a pre-teen) were okay. She was practical, more at home exploring or riding than just going to a ball. She might have explored a supposedly haunted castle at night with a flashlight, but she wasn't the average princess living in a fairy tale-castle.

I know now that this is rather unusual for girls - even though there surely are some others out there who understand how much of a substitute (an avatar, if you're more used to game talk) this doll can be, making them grown-up at least in their games. Most girls - especially today with the 'new' type of Barbie (it seems as if instead of getting a couple of different Barbies and a lot of outfits, these days you get a lot of different Barbies and only a couple of different outfits) - seem to play along the lines of what Mattel tells them. They buy not just a Barbie, they buy what the company makes it stand for; hence the computer animated movies in which Barbie is seen playing different characters (from ballets or other stories) ... complete with hosts of dolls and accessories directly taken from the movies.

I wanted a Barbie with long hair, because I liked braiding it and always wanted long hair myself (until I let it grow at 13 and had it cut short about 10 years later, because it was so unpractical and heavy). She might have been the girl with the best-braided hair, but she also was the girl who did things her own way and had adventures ... and she was clever. Today girls seem to be happy with doing their Barbie's hair and then letting her be beautiful.

Originally Barbie was supposed to be a model ... and as a such she taught girls what the fashion was, so they could dress - and act - accordingly. That's what she still does today, at least to a certain extend. But unlike in the 50ies - when she was created -, there is no such thing as the right way for a girl to spend her life. Once every woman was supposed to get married and have children - even though she was 'allowed' to have a job until the first child was born. To a certain extend that was okay - and it still is for women who want to spent their life like that.

Barbie's world is pink … hence the little evil joke at the beginning of the post about guns not being pink. Unfortunately by now 'Pink' also mostly means air-headed girls who only think about fashion and make-up (even though I like and respect the singer 'Pink' who is a tough woman and has a lot to say about the world in her songs). Not for nothing the 'jeunes etudantes' in Eoin Colfer's "Half-Moon Investigations" dress in pink to seem normal, harmless girls instead of the scheming manipulators they are (read the book if you want to learn more about this remark, it's interesting even for grown-ups).

While boys learn to kill through video games (or so some people want to make us believe), girls learn to be stupid, easy to control women through Barbie. The 'Fashion Doll' creates dolls who will play along with what others expect of them in their life. Barbie might have been an astronaut and a senator once, but the girls playing with her only aspire to be models or beautiful women with good-looking boyfriends and a pink life later on today.

I might be a tad too negative about this, but it seems as if the influence Barbie has on the girls has grown a lot during the last 20 years or so. I'm sure that today there are girls out there who use their Barbie the same way I did when I was a young girl. But there seems to be a larger number who falls for this 'blond is beautiful'-nonsense (even though today you can get brunette Barbies, this wasn't the case when I was a girl), who believes that you have to look like a plastic doll with impossible proportions to make it in this world, who believes you are not worth anything if you can't wear those impossible small pants and that tight, short tank top. They do not realize that there's a lot more than just shopping and looking pretty, than just dancing perfectly (and real ballerinas don't look as perfect as Barbie - for example they'll hardly have such large breasts) and buying everything in pink (even your car - I rather treasure my little, green Sirion).

By the time they grow out of Barbie - or so it seems - they are ready to be led on by the super-thin models on the covers of the glossy magazines who tell them the same Barbie has before: Be perfect, be thin, be pretty, be dressed in the latest fashion, have the fashionable make-up and you will be happy - just like Barbie, just like us. You don't need to be clever, you don't need to know about all that technical stuff. Stay away from computers, they are too complicated for a girl anyway, stay away from machines, they only get your clothes dirty. That's for those boys who either look geeky and are rich or look breathtaking and are poor - but driving the best-tuned car in the city. Those 'jeunes etudantes' I've written about already have seen through it. They might dress in pink and seem girlish, but they are determined to be leaders some day - and try to exterminate the source of trouble with their education: boys. Underneath their pink dresses they wear pinstripe suits and business costumes.

I just hope at least some of the 'girly girls' today will transform just like that - but without scheming against boys, it only makes you look bad later on; girls are better than boys at school anyway, just check the statistics. It seems to have started already: a 'gal' in Japan (that's how girls in Japan who dress provokingly and wear a lot of make-up are called) has by now her own marketing company for selling products for 'gals' - she might still wear pink, to stay in the picture, but she obviously is clever and knows what she wants ... and it isn't just Ken (or Brad, or however Barbie's would-be lover is called these days).

The useless discussion continues...

Another update about computer games and the new discussion. One of my favourite magazines on TV ("Hart aber Fair"; "Hard but Fair") has changed the topic of their weekly discussion because of the recent shoot-out I wrote about yesterday.

What pissed me off a bit - especially from my past experiences with the TV-show - was to describe the contents of several games instead of showing them. Given the fact that in past shows the viewers got 'treated' with pictures of suffering animals, neglected patients in hospitals and other very real, very hard pictures, not showing the games was ridiculous. After all the 'torn up' corpse in "Counter Strike" (as it was described - I personally have never seen a 'torn up' corpse in "Counter Strike", the dead are only lying on the ground, they could just as well be unconscious) is only digital, made of bits and bytes. It never suffered, it didn't die in pain. The poor chicken imprisoned in a cage hardly the size of an average page of writing paper on the other hand does suffer, it does lead a dreadful and very short life. To show the real-life chicken is okay, to show the digital corpse is not, because it's considered to be too extreme ... what kind of logic is that?

Of course we're currently getting the "all of those games should be prohibited, people owning them should be seen as perverts"-statements from the leaders of the conservative party - especially Edmund Stoiber, the Bavarian minister. That is to be expected at the moment ... and it's a sad truth that you can almost bet on when and by whom they're being made. What I find so ridiculous, is the fact that they are trying to put 'Killerspiele' in the same category as pornographic pictures or movies featuring children. The latter is a perverse, disgusting thing which should be stomped out at all costs, the first is just something only older teenagers or grown-ups should play, if they want to. How much alike they are...

People, especially grown-ups who don't have much to do with computers and games themselves, seem to think that a teenager cannot distinguish between reality and virtual world. A teenager of sixteen who cannot distinguish between reality and virtual world has definitely had some other serious problems in his life than just a few violent games. Most teenagers can, that I'm sure of.

One other thing I don't like about the discussion is that it might make people even less inclined to spent much time in front of the PC - and that means girls will even be less likely to get to know the computer ... and therefore will not be among those making much money in this 'new' market. But this is just one side effect.

One of the men in the TV-show is especially ridiculous in his arguments. He always says that those who are introverted need to be trained more, to get more physical. I was always introverted - a loner, somebody spending her afternoons not with computer games, but with books - and I would only have hated grown-ups who would have made me train in my spare time, get more muscles, reach their goals. It's a ridiculous idea to tell a introverted child - boy or girl, no matter - to buff up and become more extroverted in order to lead a more happy life. An introverted person will never be happy just because he or she is more active. We introverted - if I might be so bold as to tell it that way - like being somewhere safe, read or play (whether it's chess, a computer game or maybe a patience). We like sitting somewhere thinking about the world and maybe ways to make it better. And I like to think that most people who invented something important probably were introverted, spending hours studying something and wondering about how it works or can be used.

A funny side-note is that one of them also mentioned "World of Warcraft" a role-playing game in which you normally create your own character and meet a lot of other people in the game. You play against others sometimes (there are so called 'Player vs. Player'-areas where fighting other players is allowed), but mostly you fight with them against computer-generated and computer-controlled monsters. It's about teamwork, about tolerance (there are two sides, but sometimes you have to work with your 'enemy' in order to survive or to achieve a goal), about training to become better at what you do, about being able to actually change something (a feeling most people will never get in the 'real' world). The man mentioning it in the show obviously mixed it up with another game (maybe with "Warcraft", a strategy-game set in the same fantasy world; maybe "Battlefield", a shooter with strategy parts set in World War II). So he went on about how you can only grow strong by killing other people and become a general some time. Not even a Paladin in "World of Warcraft" will ever be a general...

This is a new example for people who talk about something they obviously never gathered information about ... and a disgrace for journalism in Germany. Yes, there are people addicted to "World of Warcraft", who spent all their spare time in front of the PC playing the game. There are even people in China who play it for money so that companies can sell their characters or special items (special armour and weapons for example). But there will always be bad effects from everything, by arguing with them you could also forbid sports, work, food, telephones, TV-sets, books, movies and so on. Given the fact that the air these days isn't as healthy as it once used to be, you could even forbid breathing.

From my point of view most amok runners don't run amok because of a game, they run amok because their life is miserable and they think they'll never be anything but a loser. So they find a weapon, they train with it, they change it (as this one did) and one day they load it, go to the place where they always were humiliated and kill those who humiliated them. There's one thing we shouldn't forget: People running amok don't expect to survive, it's a suicide in which you take people you hate with you. There were such cases even before computer games and I personally think that destroying all the games will not mean there will not be such cases in the future. Society has to change ... or die.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Another discussion that will end nowhere...

Yesterday - on Monday - we (that is the people in southern Germany) unfortunately had another former student returning to his school and running amok. As almost always in those cases it was a man - and he owned a computer with the game "Counter Strike" on it. This morning one of the first things I heard in the morning news on the radio was "we need a stricter policy towards computer games".

Now, this is nothing new, as I already pointed out more than once in my posts. Whenever something like this happens - or the elections come closer - politicians start such discussions about how to control 'dangerous' computer games.

Now, first I have to point out the fact that "Counter Strike" is no real game, but just as mod - a modification, that means a program that only runs with another program and changes the original program - to the game "Half Life". Now "Half Life" isn't really seen as a 'dangerous' or 'violent' game at all, but the mod is. "Counter Strike" 'simulates' a fight between terrorists and counter-terrorists. It is a multi-player-game and focuses on the players of one team to work together. To win a game against a good clan - as teams of players working together on a more or less permanent basis in all sorts of multi-player-games are called -, you have to be well trained in the game (movement, surroundings, game mechanics, shooting) and have a good strategy. If you miss the first, you'll be shot down one by one because you're not able to stop the others who do it better. If you miss the second, you may shoot down some of the others, but in the end - as a game of "Counter Strike" usually consists of a certain number of rounds - you will always lose. It's not just mindless shooting, as magazines and documentaries on TV and in other media often portrait it.

In Germany those games are often called 'Killerspiele' ('Killer Games', as I already mentioned) or 'Kriegsspiele' ('War Games'). As you can probably deduct from those names, they're seen as something evil. Now, even though a lot of people don't like to hear it, chess was the first war game, because, when you really get to the point, it is a simulation of a battle with each side having the same number of units and trying the same manoeuvres to win. Even though this usually is not the case in war, chess usually was used to train young men, who were supposed to lead armies, one day for their tasks. They could learn a lot about tactics without actually killing people. Nevertheless a lot of people allow their children to play chess.

Please don't misunderstand me, I do not see chess as a dangerous game, I simply point out that games always simulate something. Kids shouldn't play "Counter Strike" - I'd rather have a ten-year-old playing chess ... it'd be better for his concentration if nothing else. But I don't see a computer game for grown-ups or older teenagers (16 or older) as the reason why somebody goes into a school and kills his former class mates or teachers. There are other reasons, lots of them, which should be fought with all means.

In fact statistically (and that's my own little statistic here) almost any boy 16 or older who has access to a computer and the internet will have "Counter Strike" somewhere on his hard disk - and a couple of girls as well. It would be more surprising if one of those who run amok - who usually are above 16 and male - didn't own it.

I know that the discussion about computer games will now run a couple of weeks (two or three on the outmost, I should guess) and die down ... until the next election, of course. I slowly tire of this spiel. Just because most older people in Germany (older starting somewhere around 40 at the moment as far as this is concerned) don't have a connection to computer, video games or the internet, it is not necessary to always paint those things as 'evil'. They have their bad sides, as everything has, but they have a lot of good sides, too. It would be nice, if once, just once, the journalists could find the power to really bring those out as well. I've read one, just one, fair article about online games in a normal magazine (not the games magazines) and that was countered immediately in the next issue. This kind of "oh my god, we wrote something good about games, we have to correct that mistake immediately"-reaction sometimes makes me sick - even more so than that to always write bad things about computer games.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Since when does a woman have to look like a refugee from a Third World country to look good in designer clothes?

Size 0 again, I'm afraid.

Some time ago I did some research about modelling - not because I want to do it myself, just for fun. I wondered about how models looked in the past - 30, 40, 50 years ago. This is my result:

A woman modelling before the era of Twiggy - the first (unofficial) Size 0 model - would never, ever get a job today. They'd be seen as far too fat.

Originally the job of a model was to show ordinary women how the new clothes fashion designers had created would look on them. In other words: The more or less average woman could look at a picture in a magazine or a woman doing her turn on the catwalk and imagine what this new dress or that new costume would look on her - give or take a couple of pounds, of course.

But, of course, this also was the time when fashion designers still designed clothes that should be worn by women - not by sticks with arms and legs added. Just look at clothes from the fifties right up to the eighties. They were designed to accentuated the curves and shapes of a feminine figure. Some of them might look hilarious or just ridiculous today (especially some fashion sins from the eighties like neon or leggings - which are en vogue again, as it seems), but all of them could look good on a normal woman as well (except maybe for those only created for teenage girls in the Twiggy-era).

Today fashion designers argue that they need those super-thin models, because they "make the fashion look good". Excuse me, but I don't want fashion that only looks good on somebody who could earn millions for the Third World by just asking for an euro for a snack from everyone. I'm not even sure whether the clothes designed by the very renown designers (such as Lagerfeld or Joop) actually can be worn in public without getting arrested for not being properly dressed.

Once upon a time the fashion shown in Milan, New York, Paris or London was supposed to be slightly altered for the shops where average women could buy it. Today you would have to heavily alter those clothes to make it remotely possible any average woman would consider buying them.

Fashion design today is art … useless for everyday life or even the really important parties normal people don't get invited to - which is the worst form of art there is. But while I gladly pay money to go to a museum and see works of art, I surely won't pay money for clothes I can't wear anywhere without getting into trouble.

Once upon a time every woman wanted a Chanel-costume: simple, elegant and never really out of fashion. Today even if a fashion designer allowed a company like H&M or C&A to put his designs on sale for little money, hardly anyone would buy them.

When I look at a model doing her turns on the catwalk with the latest designs, I want to think "hey, this could look good on me" (or, at the moment, rather a good friend of mine who's not overweight) not "oh my god, when did she last time eat anything more sustaining than a TicTac".

So I have one thing to say to all the fashion designers who think a woman has to be thin to "make their designs look good": You obviously have chosen the wrong profession if you think it's not possible to create something fetching for a women with an average size.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Why calling computer games 'Killerspiele' is no real journalism

There's been another discussion about 'Killerspiele' (killer games) going on yesterday as a TV magazine which I usually like very much showed how easy it was for kids to get those games (rated for people 16 and above or 18). They also claimed the ratings set by the USK in Germany (a control instance the games industry has set up to rate the games according to the German rating system, the FSK is doing the same for movies) are too low because of what is shown.

Now, as I already pointed out in my post about "Jaws Unleashed", I really do think certain games don't belong in the hands of children. But the problem here is not the game as a such, but the rather lax way especially electronic markets (MediaMarkt and Saturn are the two most renown in Germany) and shopping centres handle the ratings. If they really asked for the age of the buyer - provided it's not obvious as with a 60-year-old - and demanded to see some sort of ID when they're not sure, the problem of kids being able to buy the stuff would be solved.

The next point I'm trying to make here is that parents ought to check on what their kids play at home. The USK-ratings are shown on the package of every game for PC or console. A simple look at the symbol (white for rating 0, yellow for rating 6, green for rating 12, blue for rating 16 and a very visible red for rating 18) would be sufficient. In addition the rating is on every CD or DVD as well (and games on floppy disk are extinct by now).

About the quality of the rating the USK does: I'm still not sure whether the ratings are always perfect, but logic dictates they can't be - just as with other media. But I'm quite sure - unlike the magazine I watched yesterday - that the ratings go conform with the guidelines of the German laws. Those might have changed over the years, you just have to watch TV to realize that. A lot of movies and series shown around eight p.m. or even in the afternoon would not have been shown there about a decade ago. Our limits for violence or sex have changed - maybe because of the media, maybe because of the changes in society. It seems that the editors of the magazine have either not grasped that fact or don't want to accept it.

What I always hate about features like the one I saw yesterday is that they use terms like 'Killerspiele' just because they know it will freak out those who don't play video games and therefore have no idea about the many different kinds of games which exist. Those who play games themselves are not fazed by it, of cause, even though they might get as pissed as I do.

A lot of the journalists in Germany also don't seem to realize how many things the computer games industry does to make sure a title can be launched in Germany. While we're not their most important market (that's the United States followed closely by Japan, two markets with less inhibitions as far as violence is concerned), we're important enough so they usually do change game contents if they deem it necessary - like eliminating Nazi symbols in games about World War II, even though you usually fight against the Nazis there.

And I really get the idea that the guidelines of the law are interpreted quite differently close to election or after bad news. A very funny example for this is the game "Unreal Tournament" (the first one, there are two more by now). It was launched - if I remember it correctly - in 1998 and did get a '16'-rating. As it is often the case the game was soon sold in bundles - usually with the game "Unreal" which had the same engine, but was more focused on single-player-gaming - and spread quite widely, because the engine allowed for good multi-player-gaming and the only real rival ("Quake III") was on the index in Germany already. This was, you have to remember, the time when LAN-parties became popular and people were always looking for good multi-player-games. Two years later, after a massacre at a German school and close to election, the game was put on the index as well. By then it had been sold innumerable times and could be downloaded (illegally) from the internet. In essence, the game could no longer be kept from teenagers - and it probably wouldn't have been put on the index either, had it not been for the fact that most people voting in Germany do not have an interest in computer games and are easy to catch by telling them a candidate or party wants to protect them and their children from dangerous games. In my eyes that's a cheap way to get votes.

And we'll never manage to get the people to really understand about the positive and negative aspects of computer games while magazines (on TV or in print or online) are not willing to do a real job of research for their articles.

How important are words?

Sometimes I really wonder about the main focus of feminists in Germany. The reason I started wondering again was the announcement of a feminist group that finally there was a better translation for the bible into German.

As I don't expect many people outside Germany to be aware of the history of the German translation of the bible, I will give you a short summary of it before I continue with my point. The first German translation was done by Martin Luther (no, he's not missing the 'King', we're talking about a former monk from Germany here) at the beginning of the 16th century. He thought - rightfully - that people might find it easier to follow the words of God when they could actually understand them. As even a lot of priests only spoke Latin very badly and most others couldn't understand it at all, he translated the whole bible into German so that priests could use it in their sermons and the better educated people could read it for themselves. As around the same time printing with types instead of woodcuts was invented, the bible could be printed in large quantities and during the following decades and centuries the Luther Bible was to be found in almost every household in Germany. There are some other translations, but they mostly were done because languages change and the German of the 16th century became less and less understandable. Nevertheless, apart from a little correction here and a little correction there, most German bibles are still based on Luther's translation.

Now the already mentioned feminist group has translated the bible anew, in order to get a 'just' book - or maybe 'politically correct' would be the better expression. On the whole this new, 'just' bible is written in a way to ensure the female terms are included everywhere as well.

This I think needs another explanation. In English you only have one word for a job, for example 'baker' can mean both a man or a woman doing this job. There's no difference because of the gender of the person. In German this unfortunately isn't the case. We have 'Bäcker' for a male baker and 'Bäckerin' for a female one. As you can see, the difference mostly comes down to the two letters 'i' and 'n'. That's the case for almost all words that are gender-specific.

Now one could claim that it would be wise to always use the female term, as it more or less contains the male term anyway. Unfortunately the German language tends to use the male term mostly - for example we use 'men' even if we really mean 'men and women' and we use 'Man' (which isn't the same as 'man' in English, the equivalent would be 'Mann', but they sound alike) if we talk about people in general. So to be politically correct - and that's mainly the madness I try to write about here - you have to either use a slash, writing 'Bäcker/in' or you write both words with an 'und' (and) in between: 'Bäcker und Bäckerin'. While this, as you can surely see, makes the texts even longer, it's not really something important from my point of view.

I've wondered about this for a long time now, as this madness isn't new and was even around before the expression 'political correctness' and it's meaning were known in Germany. While I will confess that I, too, enjoyed emphasising as a teen that I didn't feel mentioned when people used the word 'Man', I grew out of it later on. People mostly don't use this word to discriminate against women, after all, they just use it because that's the way the German language works. If you really want to do it, you can discriminate a woman just as easily using the word 'lady' as you can using the word 'bitch'. You just have to emphasise the word correctly and put the sentence together the right way.

So what I find rather hard to understand is why some feminist groups - like this one which is part of the Lutheran Church (that's the Protestants in Germany, because when Martin Luther was done with translating the bible, he started his own church, as he saw the Roman-Catholic Church as spoiled and degenerated) - put so much emphasis on this kind of 'politically correct' wording. Of course you can discriminate against women using words, but is it really discriminating against women not to double each term for a job by putting in the female form as well? I don't feel discriminate when people just use the male form, because that's the way it works best in my language - and the way it was always done before.

And before some of you sneer: I have read the bible once, both the New and the Old Testament, because I'm actually Roman-Catholic and that means I have to take both books serious. I might have read rather quickly over the long lists of people fathering children (and I know some feminists might be angry about the fact that the mothers are not mentioned there), but I have read it.

And I really have a lot of things about those books I don't like as a feminist (like women quite often being pictured as the evil ones), but I've never worried about the fact that only very few female leaders, prophets or other spiritual persons have been mentioned. The books were written by men, so what would I expect? At least they didn't make us women the first murderesses either (Cain's a man, just in case you forgot). I could also point out a lot of things about the structures and traditions of the Roman-Catholic Church (which I know best, as you can imagine) which I see as discriminating against women. We don't have female priests and women only work in the lowest jobs. They are still seen as either saints or whores (and to be honest, not many people have what it takes to be a saint) and still have to live with being the reason mankind was kicked out of paradise. I still don't see why men should get out of this 'Original Sin'-business, nobody forced Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge, after all.

So there's a lot of things you can be set against when being a feminist and reading the bible, the actual wording isn't really one of them. Why should I be angry about the fact that there are no female apostles mentioned in the New Testament when the Old Testament almost begins with a woman committing the Original Sin? There are strong women in the New Testament, like Jesus' mother Mary and Mary Magdalen. After all they both follow him to his execution and are with him in his last hours on earth. For the woman who gave birth to him and the woman he is these days said to have loved that must have been really hard, watching him die slowly and painfully.

This emphasis they put on wording is what makes feminists look so stupid in the eyes of most people. As if not mentioning female apostles in the bible were the worst way women are neglected or discriminated these days... We still get less money for the same work, we still have to live with being discriminated or mobbed at work just because we're missing the 'Y'-chromosome. We're still not taken seriously when we decide to stay at home and work hard to keep the family together and the household in perfect order (and sometimes the feminists actually are doing the discriminating there; why doesn't a woman have the right to work for her family if she wants to?). Being a housewife is not a job - and with "Desperate Housewives" on TV, it turns out to actually be even less 'respectable' ... as if a normal housewife would live her life that way. Some men still seem to think it's okay to beat your wife or girlfriend when they don't act the way you expect them to, because after all women are there to serve men. There are still women out there crippled and scarred for life because men think women should not be able to feel pleasure during sex. There are women out there who have to hide because otherwise they would get killed by their own relatives because of 'honour' (a word no man has been able to explain to me in a logical and rational way up to this very second). A lot of men still think it's a woman's fault if she gets raped, even though rape has nothing to do with lust and everything with domination and degradation of the victim.

As long as all those things still exist in our world, not as exceptions but almost as the rule, I as a feminist will never be angry about the bible containing mostly male wording. And frankly I find it hard to take those feminists seriously who are angry about such a minor detail ... and celebrate such a 'just' bible as if it were the answer to all our problems.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Regarding Feminism

Why do young women these days think feminism is some kind of dirty word? This is a question I have been asking myself for quite some time now. It seems most young women these days think you can't be a feminist and have a boyfriend. But why's that?

I think it's mainly down to those hardcore-feminists we've had during the 70's and 80's, women who, while fighting an important fight for all women, gave the impression of not really being women at all. Don't misunderstand me, I think very highly of those feminists who have done their very best to ensure equal treatment for women in our country. But you just have to look at a quite recent example. Alice Schwarzer, a well-known German feminist (at least very well-known in Germany), was quite angry about something another well-known woman had said, regarding feminism. This turned into quite a bitch-fight (and I know some women might see this word as a dirty one as well), as both of them are quite vocal and don't back down easily. And, to be completely honest, I can't imagine Alice Schwarzer having a relationship with a man, she seems too self-reliant and strong to me. Nevertheless feminism is more than just say "all men are pigs" and "women are the better men".

Honestly, I think a women trying to be just like a man is not trying hard enough. Why should I want to be like a man? Men die earlier than women, they don't have that many words per day at their disposal and today they're quite often picked on for being men. Admittedly women aren't off much better, just look into the magazines or watch music television for half an hour. While men are being picked on for either being too emotional or not emotional enough, women are often pictured as being objects (usually objects of sexual desire). One of the main problems of society these days seems to be that we don't know what we really are. We put ourselves into categories and are caught there. A woman can only be either pretty or clever, a true man can't cry or show other emotions. That's idiocy, but people believe it, because that's the picture the media cements every day.

This brings me to another thing I can't understand. A lot of women these days - including Victoria Beckham who mentioned not being a feminist, because she was a 'romantic' - seem to think that as a feminist you can't allow any man being polite to you. That's what opening the door for somebody or helping someone to put a coat on really is: being polite. It doesn't mean the man in question thinks the woman is not capable of doing those things herself, he's just being polite and helpful. And as a self-assured woman I am more than capable of realizing this, so why should I deny a man this little pleasure of - and I think I'm being evil here - being helpful in a restaurant or theatre? Of course I can pay for my own meal, but why shouldn't he invite me? I'll invite him to something else later, maybe pay for the taxi or the tickets for the movie we're going to watch. And just because I can put on my coat myself, why should I rip a man's head off for offering to help me? A man still doing these things today should not be killed, but treasured, as he is one of a dying breed.

Feminism is an important reason why things are the way they are today. A lot of women have fought - ever since the time of the Suffragettes - a hard fight to make sure we are mostly equal to men today. The fight is still going on and it will go on as long as women still get paid less for the same work or are discriminated in other ways.

The only thing we as feminists should avoid at all costs is discriminating against men. They, too, have the right to live and to behave the way they want. Getting a baby takes two - and so do a lot of other nice things in life. And sometimes I think remembering this simple fact could change the rather harsh words between the genders to become a lot softer and more friendly.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Is there a difference?

You could probably fill an ocean with the ink used to describe the difference between men and women from the rather traditional "men are stronger than women" right up to "men are from Mars, women are from Venus". What always surprises me is that it burns down to a couple of 'real' differences.

Yes, it's true, men are physically stronger than women, at least on the average and that's what you have to base every question about the difference between men and women on. Men have something over 40% of muscles, compared to their mass, while women only have a little over 20%. It's only logical to deduce from this a pure physical difference.

And yes, every adult should know that men and women are not build alike - as much as women wearing Size 0 seem to try for androgyny. I sometimes envy men for their penis, but only when I'm forced to use a dirty restroom somewhere and wish I could do that standing instead of having to hover over the seat, trying not to touch it too much. Apart from that I think that it's neither the most good looking limb of a male body, nor the best designed means of reproduction. The fact that a man has to keep some of his most tender parts outside his body is bad enough, even without us women knowing by now where to kick him in an emergency. And from what male acquaintances have told me, that's really, really painful...

The last real difference between men and women is the fact that women tend to live a bit longer than men. That's probably down to our very evolution building man to do daring deeds like hunting mammoths, deeds which will kill him off early anyway, and building woman to give birth to and raise children, which will take a good deal longer. Men are build for strength and power, but very much like a high-octane motor, they are prone to fall to pieces quickly without a lot of maintenance - which men don't seem to deem necessary.

Most things men or women point out as differences are no real differences in my view, but rather areas in which society does not handle both genders alike. Take the most common thing: driving a car. Statistics state that women do usually drive better than men and are less likely to get into an accident. Most men will tell you that women drive worse than them, especially their girlfriend or spouse. Or take parking. It's true that most accidents women are in happen in the parking lot while moving into or leaving parking spaces. This is something women seem to be worse at. Scientists claim it has something to do with men having a better eye for three-dimensional situations. But if you really look at it and talk to women who are bad at parking, you'll realize that nobody ever really worked on it with them. The way I see it it's like this: If a man is bad at parking a car, his friends take him to some parking lot or other place where they can practice this until he's finally got it. If a woman is bad at parking a car, her friends (male and female alike) only shrug and say "that's how it is". Women who drive a lot because of their job usually are just as good at parking a car then men are ... because they practice more.

Or take the idea that women are worst gossips than men. Most people will claim it's something evolutional, that women have always talked more and gossiped because their job (raising children or collecting fruits, vegetables, roots and grains) didn't demand silence. But if you really take a look at it, you will find men gossiping just as often, just a little shorter, maybe. Society has deemed it acceptable for women to stand around gossiping longer than men. Besides: under the right circumstances men will be gossiping just as much as women.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Why Japanese animation for adults has such a bad reputation in Germany

Okay, so here goes the ranting again, this time about Animée. To those of you unfamiliar with the word, Animée is often used to describe Japanese animation movies or TV-series. I'm an avid fan of both Animée and Manga (that's the word for Japanese comics) and therefore - being, as I already mentioned, 32 already - I'm attracting some rather surprised looks sometimes while browsing through the Manga-section of my favourite bookstore or through the Animée-DVD-section of my favourite entertainment store. But this is not about people thinking a grown-up should not be watching/reading such stuff, I've overcome them a long time ago and did some ranting about them in a German Manga-forum some time ago. It's about what has given Animée such a bad name in Germany: Hentai.

Hentai is, as you might have gathered already, another Japanese word. I do not know its translation (I could find out, but it's not necessary), but what it stands for is the animated equivalent of porn movies. To explain how Hentai came into existence, I have to tell you something about Japanese culture, so here it goes:

Firstly you have to realize that to people in Japan 'animated' or 'drawn' does not necessarily mean 'for children only'. Manga are produced for all social groups in Japan from Kindergarden to old age. They are just some sort of entertainment, like novels or short stories - which they resemble to a certain point. Animée is the animated equivalent of this, so the movies and TV-series range from 'for kids'-stuff to 'for adults only'. It's not wrong to say that you'll find among the Animées everything you'll find in real movies as well. There's comedy, there's action and, yes, there's porn as well.

Unfortunately people in Germany are not really aware of this. Most of them see Animée either as something for kids (very much like the animated series produced by Disney or Cartoon Network) or as smut (that would be Hentai for you). Strangely enough, the TV-stations seem to see it like this as well, among the first animated movies from Japan shown in Germany (usually only on one or two free-TV stations) were a lot of Hentai-movies. Anybody zapping in and only watching them for a couple of minutes, out of interest, would therefore have gotten the image of all 'adult' animation from Japan being smut.

This has been slowly changing recently due to Studio Ghibli. They produced some of the highest quality Animées ever, such as "Princess Mononoke" or "The Last Fireflies" (I'm translating the titles from German here, they may be called differently in English-speaking countries). Even though somebody has recently tried to find sexual contexts in those movies as well (but some people will try to find sexual contexts everywhere), they are on the whole considered to be suitable for most ages (maybe not the smallest children who might find some scenes too scary).

What I find so amusing about this situation is that still most people will make the simple equation of adult Animée=smut. Well, actually I should be angry about this, but I can't bring myself to care. I still buy Manga and Animée (and usually not smut) and I don't care for what other people might think about it. I only find it sad that prejudices are so hard to kill ... and that German TV-stations seem to think the only Animées for grown-ups worth buying are porn.