29 October 2014

world wide wednesdays :: gypped

traditional romani wagon
it's likely that you've used the term "gypped" when you've felt cheated of something and i'll bet you didn't know when you were doing so that you were saying something that was derogatory and more than a little racist. most of us don't know that the word originates from the term "gypsy" and began as a way of referring to activities of theirs perceived as sly, underhanded or outright criminal. it's evidence of a long, dark history of mistrust and vilification between white europeans and the widespread minority group they call gypsies.

the term "gypsy" itself is a misnomer, given by people who believed these darker-skinned neighbours originated in egypt. in fact, linguistic and dna analysis has determined that they came from northern india, beginning their migration between 500 and 100a.d. and arriving in europe [specifically the balkans] as early as the twelfth century. the romani language [also the proper name for the people who speak it, although you'll hear rom, roma and local variants of the term used as well], which is spoken today by between five and six million people is related most closely to hindi, punjabi and bengali. generally, it is those located in eastern europe who have retained the language; the further north you go, the more romani have combined their original language with that of the country in which they've settled. [side note: most romani speak the language of their home countries as well as that of their ethnic group, however many further north don't know a pure form of the ethnic language at all. there are significant romani communities all over europe, however, as far north as finland and all the way west to portugal.]

flag of the romani people, adopted 1933
after leaving northern india and eventually finding themselves in europe, it's a fair guess that the first thing that went through the collective romani mind was "we've made a huge mistake". from their first interaction with the peoples of europe, things were at best coldly civil.   by 1385, less that sixty-five years after the first written account of european- romani contact, there are records of romani being traded as slaves. while some jurisdictions allowed the romani safe passage, this was often to facilitate them going somewhere else. from the early 15th to the early 16th century, many states expelled romani from their territory and several later instituted laws that they could be killed on site. and sadly, those who were killed might have been considered lucky. it was common in much of europe for romani to be branded, maimed [women would have their ears cut off to make them more easily identifiable in bohemia and moravia] and beaten. in 1545 the holy roman empire declared that killing a "gypsy" would not be considered a crime and the glut of bodies that resulted from the ensuing frenzy of murders caused so many civic problems that they had to step in and ask the people to at least stop drowning romani women and children. [side note: even the very first interaction with europeans had some inauspicious signs for the romani. the irish cleric symon semeonis, who decided to stroll from his home country to the holy land, was the first to record a meeting with the romani, on the island of crete in 1322. in his account, he referred to them as the "children of cain", meaning that they were descended from adam and eve's evil son who killed his good-guy brother abel.]

the history of romani persecution is absolutely horrific in both its practices and the length of time it has endured. notice that i'm using the present tense there? that's because there are still outbursts of xenophobia against the romani in modern europe. while you hear mention of the romani being targeted by the nazis for extermination, discussion of their modern persecution usually ends there. and even the extent of their persecution during the holocaust hasn't been sorted out: while original estimates put the number of romani killed during the holocaust at between 100,000 and 500,000, it has more recently been postulated that the number might be closer to 2,000,000. [note: one of the stories concocted by the catholic church to ensure that their flock stayed well and truly pissed at the romani was that they had been responsible for forging the nails that were used to crucify christ. this is patently ridiculous, because the romani weren't anywhere near the holy lands at that time, but why should the facts get in the way of some good old fashioned religious hatred? it seems that labeling insular, marginal communities within europe as complicit in the murder of christ was a successful strategy for bigots.]

map of present-day romani populations within europe
after the war, the romani who were left in eastern europe might not have been explicitly marked for death, but the new governments that emerged weren't a hell of a lot more sympathetic. many countries gathered up their romani populations, shipped them off to remote locations and told them to stay put, outlawing their traditional nomadic lifestyle. policies of forced integration continued unabated, as they had for hundreds of years. czechoslovakia distinguished itself by labeling romani as a "socially degraded stratum" and in 1973 introduced a program of forced and/ or coerced sterilization that continued until 1991. think about that for a moment: when we first heard nirvana's "smells like teen spirit", a developed european country was sterilizing women against their will. 

to this day, many romani face discrimination across europe and live in dire poverty. often, they have been left worse off than they were under communist rule, since they have lost the jobs that the government provided and no longer have access to free education. although at least no one is subjecting them to forced surgery anymore. as their status in europe has become more precarious, the romani have responded in much the same way that they always have, by moving to an area where their prospects seem better. when canada lifted its requirement that potential czech immigrants and refugees acquire a visa, in 1996, they received a shocking ten-fold increase in refugee claims, almost all of them from romani desperate to escape. canada blinked slowly and reacted by slamming the visa requirement back on in 1997. [side note: this was not the first case of romani fleeing europe for the west. there are significant communities in several areas of the united states.]

modern romani in lviv, ukraine
however the destination for most romani exiting eastern europe has been to western europe. the western european nations have reacted to this with a "didn't we kick you out a few hundred years ago?" kind of welcome. italy declared romani  a threat to national security after two romani men raped and killed and italian woman. they did not, however, declare italians a threat to national security when two romani children drowned within sight of several beach-goers. [and any country that elects silvio berlusconi is some sort of threat in my books.] the french press has sounded the alert that paris is being overrun by hordes of gypsy children pickpocketing tourists [as if the children were the problem and the victims]. both the french and italian governments have demolished the temporary encampments where many romani have been forced to take up residence as a subtle way of telling them to move along. police in naples gently encouraged a group of romani to abandon their camp by lobbing molotov cocktails at it. romani remain a popular target for politicians seeking to assign blame for rising crime rates and other urban problems, to say nothing of white supremacist movements. [side note: part of the perception that romani are criminals is based on a misunderstanding of similar-sounding terms. the child pickpockets who have shown up in droves in many european cities are thought to be controlled by members of a romani mafia. in fact, authorities believe that they are controlled by a branch of the romanian mafia, which is made up of romanians of different origins, including, but not exclusive to, romani.]

the situation of europe's romani should be a continental embarrassment and yet we seem to hear little of it. and when you do read press on the issue, much of it reinforces the dominant narrative that the romani are criminal by nature. aside from the characterization as an empire of thieves, much lurid press has been given to the romanian tradition of child marriage, without clarifying how widespread the custom actually is among modern romani groups. in societies that like to consider themselves progressive, hatred and distrust of the romani remain acceptable, even the norm. the group has truly been gypped.

november novelets :: what i'm doing tonight to assure i'm unprepared for nanowrimo

i need you to help me.

i go through this every year around this time.

every year, i start jotting down ideas for national novel writing month, or nanowrimo for those who need it translated for twitter. i think about what i could reasonably accomplish, about which ideas i could possibly flush out to novel length. then i think about whether or not i should just stick by my literary guns and try to write short stories, because i've had it with novel-dominance and attention spans are supposed to be getting shorter, so surely my structure of choice should be due for its moment in the sun.

at the same time, i also get wrapped up in coming up with some sort of fabulous halloween costume and work on that and then i get frustrated. [no word of a lie- i came up with my halloween costume as i typed that last phrase. that's how easy it is to distract me.] and i start taking long walks so i can photograph some of the halloween festooning my neighbourhood, which is great for ideas, but not so great for more detailed planning. then i wake up november 1st and realise that it's started and i'm supposed to be ready to batten down the hatches and work for a month, but that i'm in no way ready.

i try to tell myself at this point that i can still do it, i just need to spend the first few days planning, which i then fail to do, or if i do, i fail to come up with any workable idea and end up suffocating any ideas that show potential by being too attentive.

i've noticed that november 7th is generally f-day. f as in fail. it's the day i realise that i've used up a full week of the month allotted and that i have absolutely no ideas i want to pursue. i take about three days to bounce back, wherein i look up stories as to why nanowrimo is an awful idea, targeted towards the strictly amateur, take one last, great effort to come up with a brilliant idea for something and cook fattening things because you cannot cook and write at the same time without burning your house down, so i have a good excuse, come up with lots of blog ideas because blog posts count, dammit and go back through all the writing i have saved to see if i have something that i could resurrect/ finish so that i have some sense that i'm still kind of a writer, even if i suck at dedication.

by about the 10th, i've regained a little of my composure and have come to terms with the fact that no novel is forthcoming. that's usually around the time i start to think that i could just use the remainder of the month to do something short, because i'm primarily a short story writer and i don't need to be bound by nanowrimo rules, i could just do my own nashostowrihamo [national short story writing half month] and i wouldn't feel like i'd wasted my time entirely.

i don't really know what happens after that. i know what doesn't happen, which is the completion of any short stories. i actually don't know that i've ever completed a piece of writing in november and if i have, it was completely unintentional.

i think what happens is that i get kidnapped by aliens who return me around the 27th of the month with a slightly lobotomised expression and i blankly repeat "but every month should be writing month!"

so what say you, wise friends? nanowrimo yes or no? i'm working from home now, so i don't have the excuse that i have to be in an office or stuck in commuter hell, but my behaviour during other times when i've been at home hasn't exactly been exemplary. do i try once again to dedicate the month to writing, or do i just try to ignore it [this gets extremely tricky unless i just don't look at my social media feeds and if i'm going to stop doing that, i might as well spend the time writing...] and be content that i'll write on my own time? any tricks from those of you that have tried this in the past?

and i'm completely aware of the irony that i could have spent the time i used to write this blog post planning something to work on during november, so you totally don't have to point that out. but anything else you want to say is probably welcome.

27 October 2014

mental health mondays [rewind] :: enough to drive you crazy

those of you who don't follow canadian television [imma go out on a limb and say that's most of you] probably aren't familiar with the show "canada's worst driver". but i actually suspect that a significant minority of you are familiar with the show because the one post that i ever did about it gets views every single day. why? because of a two-time show "contestant" named angelina marcantognini. apparently a lot of you are really interested in knowing what became of her. i wish i could help you. i really have no idea what she's doing now, so you don't have to read this whole post to find that out. i just got inspired to write this post about her because of the questions that her case raised about access to mental health services in canada.

if you're curious, you might want to inquire on the show's facebook page. you might also want to check out the latest crop of behind-the-wheel beelzebubs that have signed in for rehab, as season 10 has just started tonight. [i'm pretty sure that the show's resident psycho-therapist is going to have her hands full.]

*

angelina in the blue dress, second from right
just because i have no patience for shows like "american idol", "the voice" or anything involving the karsahians doesn't mean that i'm entirely immune to the meretricious charms of reality television. i try to take a moment every day to hate myself for finding "duck dynasty" amusing, despite my fundamental disagreements with the robertson family on just about everything and my awareness of the artifice of the show itself. but one reality show that feels less guilty and more pleasure is "canada's worst driver", a distinctly canadian take on a show that's appeared in different national versions for over a decade, starting [as many reality shows do] in great britain.

the canadian version has actually had a longer run than any of the other "worst driver" series not because our drivers are that bad, but because the focus of the show is not an anti-celebration of the bad drivers, but on educating them on how to become good [or at least competent] drivers. which makes the whole process somewhat redemptive rather than just infuriating. relatively few of the drivers are the risible characters you would expect [and in fact, those that are truly unrepentant are summarily dealt with and removed from the show so as not to impede the others]. most of the candidates are perfectly aware of how terrible they are, if only because they have the record to prove it. many are inexperienced and/ or lack confidence. others are in denial without being bellicose and it is those people who tend to wind up with the end of season trophies.

although there is no shortage of mockery on the show, the candidates are also treated in what i would see as a uniquely canadian fashion: through the season, we get to know them, get to see their humanity, get to hear their side of the story. it becomes easy to sympathize at least a little with most of them, even if you wouldn't want them driving in your city.

this year, the show has done their "worst of the worst" series, inviting back the "champions" of previous seasons along with those selected by viewers as deserving of a repeat performance. of those, the person the host said he believed to be the most likely candidate for the title of "canada's worst driver ever" was eventually removed for mental health issues. in removing her from consideration, the show actually does a public service, highlighting a serious problem in the treatment of mental illness in canada.

FIND OUT WHAT, ALBEIT WITH SHOW SPOILERS, AFTER THE BREAK...

26 October 2014

making faces :: purple palettes' majesty

years ago, i was visiting a makeup counter with a friend of mine and as we looked at products, the sales associate commented "wow, you really like anything purple!" i admit to it. it's not like i'm obsessed and have to have everything around me purple, but when shown a rainbow of colours, my eye does naturally fall to the purple tones. [purple isn't part of the rainbow -ed.] [shut up, it's a metaphor. -kate]

nothing says "i'm well-adjusted" like PAHRPLE EVERYTHINGZ

so after trying and falling in love with guerlain's new and limited "les sables" palette, with it's gorgeous, buttery matte shades, i knew that i had to go back for the all-matte purple palette "les violines". after all, purple mattes are tough to find and a lot of those that  you do come across are overly powdery or stiff. i tried each of the shades from "les violines" on my hand and was properly convinced that this would not be the case here.

the four shades are what i'd call neutral to warm purples. technically, purple is considered a cool colour, but those that pull more red/ brown/ mauve have a tendency to look warm compared with very blue-based ones. two of the shades in "les violines" lean reddish, while the other two are pretty much right down the tonal middle. let's dive right in, shall we?

25 October 2014

the persistence of perversions

you didn't have to be canadian this week to know the biggest news story in the country. friends from the u.s. and the u.k. [as well as some from further away] expressed their shock and condolences when they heard that a shooter, a canadian man who converted in adulthood to islam, had murdered a young soldier in front of a war memorial in our capital city of ottawa. fewer of them realised that this was actually the second such incident in three days. another young man, also a late convert to islam who expressed anger at the canadian government's support for u.s. bombing campaigns in the middle east, targeting islamic state fighters. it's been a tough week here in a country that isn't exactly used to being the target of such vitriol.

it didn't take long to identify the assailants in either case as "self-radicalised" supporters if the radical islamic state group. the first, martin couture-rouleau, who ran down two soldiers, killing one, in st-jean-sur-richelieu, was already being watched by the government [and had had his passport revoked]. the second, michael zehaf-bibeau, had not advertised his radical views to the same extent, but it did not take long after his shooting rampage for evidence to emerge that he too had drunk the islamic state kool aid. already, at least one mosque has been defaced and the canadian prime minister is promising to allocate more funds and resources to the police and military in order to fight terrorism at home. the battle is on and it looks like it could become ugly. too bad it won't help solve the problem.

first of all, it ignores the fact that the rcmp and csis [the canadian security intelligence service, our version of mi6 or the c.i.a.] actually have a pretty good record when it comes to thwarting terrorist activity. in 2006, they broke up a fairly well-organised terrorist cell inspired by al-qaeda and arrested eighteen people before the group had a chance to act on any of their plans. in 2010, two ontario men were arrested and charged with facilitating terrorist activity. one was found guilty earlier this year, while the other opted to plead guilty to avoid a life sentence.] in 2013, they arrested two people who had planned to bomb a popular train route, again, before the plan could be executed. clearly, they underestimated the danger posed by two individuals this week, but this does not mean that they were incapable of responding; it means that they need to update their methods of tracking potential terror suspects to account for the increasing presence of "lone wolves" who believe they will die as religious heroes. in fact, unless they are able to adjust to new realities, i'm not convinced that throwing money at the problem will make much difference at all.

where the government is going wrong is by focusing their efforts on radical islam. while the two men who killed soldiers this week might have professed that their actions were inspired by their religion, it doesn't seem like this was their basic problem. martin couture rouleau was angry and depressed, according to one of his neigbours [linked article is in french], particularly over the loss of his business. other neighbours noted that this lead to a complete change in his personality, as if he'd become a different person. whereas some might have sought psychiatric help, couture-rouleau sought solace in a bastardized form of islam, something that allowed him to direct the anger that he felt and to act out the role of the martyr he already believed himself to be.

bibeau's case is even worse. he had struggled for years with mental illness and addiction. at one point, he claimed to have committed an armed robbery that never happened and later on tried to hold up a mcdonald's restaurant with a stick then waited for the police to arrive. he was addicted to crack and desperate to go to jail, where he felt that he had a chance to break his habit. sadder still, at the time, his faith was inspiring him to get clean and improve himself. however, as he got more frustrated with his peripatetic life, he was able to funnel his anger through his religion.

it seems clear that both of these men were suffering from mental illness and that both felt lost and powerless. it's not uncommon for people in such circumstances to turn to religion or any support system. unfortunately, the networks that they often find don't offer anything like the help they need, but rather allow them to displace blame for their situation and embrace ideologies that validate their feelings of rage, particularly against power structures.

there is no doubt that the islamic state group has reached out to muslims worldwide, encouraging them to act against western governments on their own territory while i.s. fights the war for the homeland. but without a receptive audience, those messages would be meaningless. we would be far better off addressing the domestic audience if we want to prevent more terrorist acts at home. after all, it's not like we've never seen this type of thing before.

in the 1990s, the public was suddenly confronted with domestic terrorism of a different sort when right wing "patriot" timothy mcveigh blew up the alfred p. murrah federal building in oklahoma. an decorated soldier, mcveigh had found life outside the military unexpectedly tough, moving from place to place and from one job to another, while growing increasingly hostile toward the government. [mcveigh had attempted to enter special forces training prior to leaving the military, but was rejected on the basis of his psychological exam.] he reportedly claimed that the government had inserted a microchip in him to track his movements and struggled with gambling addiction before finding himself welcome in the arms of a militia movement who shared his anti-government sentiments.

the oklahoma city bombing was actually one in a series of incidents involving such anti-government groups: in 1992, randy weaver and his family had a standoff with federal authorities that ended in three deaths; less than a year later, the branch davidian compound in waco texas was raided after a standoff of nearly two months with many of the same federal agencies [most notably the department of alcohol, tobacco and firearms, whose role in enforcing gun laws has often brought them into conflict with survivalist factions] and seventy-six members of the group died in a fire.

the primary motivation of these militias was political and not religious [although many of them identified with radical forms of christianity], but the similarities between them and islamic state are nonetheless compelling: both groups target governments as a way of stripping potential victims of their humanity; both reassure converts that they have struggled because the powers that be have stacked the odds against them and mean them harm; both espouse violence, which has a terrible appeal to people who feel powerless in their own lives, as it allows them to substitute their impotent passivity with action; and of course, they provide the sense of being part of something larger, something greater than oneself and the chance to be a hero.

by insisting that we clamp down solely on terrorist activity- either from islamic state or the militia movement- we are addressing the symptom but not the cause. the reason that the recruitment tactics have been successful is because there is such a pool of angry, frustrated people who feel like their lives are blighted and that they can do nothing to change this by acting "within the system". people who cannot find ways to work their way out of poverty, who cannot get help for mental illness and addiction, people who have served their country and returned only to feel betrayed by governments who had been happy to use them, young people who can see few prospects for their futures, these are all soft targets for extremists. as long as we continue asking "how can we stop these groups from recruiting?" instead of "why are so many people eager to join groups like this?" we will forever be playing what amounts to an extremely dangerous game of whack-a-mole, always focused on eradicating the radical flavour of the month.

i don't oppose spending more money to target terrorist groups in canada, as long as i'm reasonably convinced it would do some good. but if we're going to facilitate longer term change, our government needs to stop implementing policies that target the poor by reducing services available to them; they need to expand funding for mental health services and work with the provinces to ensure that there is minimal cost associated with using them; they need to create greater access to drug treatment centres and update drug laws so that addicts are treated for health problems and not branded as criminals; they need to abandon the idea that we are all better off taking a pittance in tax credits and fending for ourselves than we are acting as a civil society and considering that the raising the living standard of the entire group helps us all individually. in short, the government needs to do the opposite of what it has been doing on almost every front.

i see no evidence that this will happen. sadly, i suspect that if i'm still around and writing this blog in twenty years, i'll be able to pull this post and update it with information on whatever group has arisen to twist religion, national pride or something new and prey on the angry and disenfranchised. maybe by then, we'll have figured it out.

the image at the top of this post shows the burning of the waco compound of the branch davidians in april 1993. i'm not certain of the original source, but i found it in this article. the rest of the site is absolutely worth a look for those interested in politics, culture, cooking, humour and, well, a lot of the topics you find here on more like space.
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