03 August 2015

paranoid theory of the week :: is donald trump secretly a plant for the democrats?

i had intended to start the "official-ish more like space american democracy-thon 2016" coverage with some kind of commentary on all the candidates, but i can't find time in between candidates becoming contestants to get a solid group of thoughts together. surely things are taking their final shape now, though, even if their final shape is a rather amorphous blob. but already, there's clearly one candidate who's been more visible, more risible and less believable than anyone else.

when donald trump first announced that he was thinking of running for president, i assumed it was the same sort of bluff he pulled last time, a publicity stunt to help boost the ratings of the apprentice and reassure himself that he was [still?] relevant. when he went through with it, i couldn't stop giggling and, once i saw that remarkable launch speech with the talk of mexicans being sent to the united states to commit crimes or something, i asked dom if he thought trump was really a democrat working to destroy the republican party from within. i meant it as a joke, but it turns out there are people who are wondering if that isn't the case. which is where we get this week's paranoid theory.

the theory ::
donald trump is secretly a democrat, whose run for the nomination of the republican party [and, in the event that he loses, a possible run as an independent] is actually a ruse to ensure that the democrats- and in particular hillary clinton- win the 2016 election.

the origins ::
a handful of republicans and a few right wing media outlets, but not total fringe-dwellers. the washington times has raised the issue on several occasions, for instance. for that matter, the ubiquitous huffington post raised the possibility in a jovial way, but didn't exactly dismiss it entirely.

the believers ::
not a lot of them who'll speak publicly. aside from the aforementioned washington times, miami congressman [and jeb bush supporter] carlos curbelo floated the idea on spanish language media, but even then only meekly. i suspect there are a lot of people [like me!] who don't think it's the craziest idea that they've heard, but they don't want to speak up because a. they're going to get shot down and be derided as a loon; or b. they don't want to spoil the fun.

the bad guys ::
donald trump and the clintons

the evidence :: 
no one disputes that trump has donated nearly as much money to the democrats, including to the campaigns of one hillary clinton. and, as the media loves to keep pointing out, the clintons were guests at trump's most recent wedding. i can't recall the last time the republicans had to deal with a candidate whose party credentials were so equivocal and the last guy who ran had created a blueprint for barack obama's health care program.

but what really seems to be driving people to question trump's seriousness is the shit that keeps pouring like the contents of a burst sewage pipe from his mouth. it started off with the first speech of his campaign [and while his comments about immigrants got most of the coverage, there were a lot of moments that were memorable]. then there was a speech in las vegas that was described by a number of media outlets as "surreal", where he crowed about the importance of his book the art of the deal as it pertains to international trade relations, said that he would put a hotel mogul in charge of trade relations with china, re-upped on his comments about immigrants and said that those who opposed his views were agents of the mexican government [which could be a future paranoid theory of the week] and more. or there's the potshots he took at former presidential candidate john mccain, specifically on his war record, which is the one area where even angels fear to tread in criticizing him. the guy spent years in a cage and refused to leave when he could have. that's some serious inner strength.

people are looking at donald trump and thinking that, while he may have been born into privilege, he didn't get to be the man he is today [whatever you think of him] by being stupid and crazy. he has done well in business, including taking advantage of laws that allowed him to declare bankruptcy for certain of his enterprises. the stuff he's saying now is testing the upper limits of the nuts-o-meter. it's not like he's shied away from being eccentric in the past, or like anything he's saying now seems completely disconnected from his previous statements. but it's hard to reconcile what he says now with the guy who built his family fortune into a much bigger fortune, or who managed to transform himself into a celebrity with a considerable following.

what's absent in all this is any evidence of actual collusion on the part of democrats. yes, hillary clinton is clearly running for president and she and trump have had an amicable enough relationship in the past. but if this is something that's being planned, the people involved are keeping some hermetically sealed lids on it. in an age when news stories seem to leak before they've even stopped happening, we are to believe that the democrats have somehow mobilized an incredibly high profile spy to take over the republican nomination process without a whisper of this having ever left the room. i'm sure that democrats are thrilled that donald trump is in the race and doing so well, but does the party command the sort of loyalty that could execute this sort of coup without a hint of their complicity coming out?

the likelihood :: 3/10
i hear you asking: why are you giving this any credibility whatsoever? well, because even though i don't accept that there's any evidence that the democrats are involved in planting donald trump as a disruptor in the republican race for the white house, i think that there's a possibility that donald trump is planting donald trump as a disruptor in the republican race for the white house.

if you look at trump's business record and the politicians to whom he has given money, they tend to be those who are in favour of economic deregulation [like bill clinton], who have a healthy relationship with wall street and big capital and who adopt a more hands-off approach on social issues. and that's very much in keeping with what you would think trump would want, given his personal history. so it is just possible that, without the democratic party ever approaching him to do so, he is using some of his vast wealth [whether you believe his claims as to its extent or not] to play an elaborate prank on the hardcore right wing who have seized control of the republican party since 2010. he's essentially parroting the worst parts of their arguments, alienating all the groups who party leaders admitted they needed to attract after the last presidential election and he's leading in every single poll. [and for those who want to argue that his lead is based on name recognition, i'd like to see them explain why self-identified republicans don't recognize the name "bush".]

by playing up the clownish caricature of himself he's been honing on television for years, he's exposing those very vocal elements of the republican party for the fools that they are and potentially shooing them out of the way for the future. if the price he pays for that is four [or eight] years of a democrat in power who he likes personally and probably feels will embody his own views in government, that might be a chance he's willing to take.

of course, trump is taking some very real business hits because of his comments. but he's also getting a phenomenal amount of free publicity. and let's be honest, it's not like he needs to be earning more money at this stage. whatever he wants to do, he basically can. and it's not out of the realm of possibility that he wants to play an elaborate practical joke on people who will worship him for it.

a couple of days ago, i saw a republican party strategist on msnbc [getting my time in before they dispose of all of the hosts who made them watchable] say in a defeated tone that he hopes donald trump continues his run, that he hopes he wins and that he hopes he then goes on to inevitably lose all fifty states so that the republican party can move on from the foolishness that's possessed it in recent years and rebuild. i'm not convinced that donald trump isn't in complete agreement.

01 August 2015

making kisses :: sneaky kisses with christian

i'm not quite sure what to make of it when cosmetics companies seem to do ninja launches, sneaking in new [sometimes limited] products under the cover of a larger launch. do they not want us to notice that there's something new and interesting? is it a way of rewarding those who are really paying attention? i'm never certain. i always kind of hope that if i buy one of these "secret garden" products, i'll end up opening it and discovering the portal to a magical kingdom. that's never happened, but it won't stop me from trying and often it does end up with me getting something that deserves more attention than it would otherwise get.

so i'm here today to tell you about a new, permanent [i believe] addition to the rouge dior lipstick line called "times square". it was one of six lipsticks launched with their new rouge brilliant gloss line this spring. i've yet to try the glosses, since i'm very fussy over gloss formula and i don't wear them all that often, so taking a chance on a high end brand seems less appealing than buying a lipstick i know i'm going to like. which is basically what i knew i was getting with "times square".

the rouge dior formula is one that i appreciate. it's a good all-around performer. the wear time is what i'd call average, it's not drying, doesn't slip around, provides nice, even, opaque coverage that looks true to what you see in the tube. i hesitate to use the term "reliable", since that's often code for "stodgy", but there is something conservative and pleasant about the rouge diors. they're almost all wearable in a lot of different situations, including the workplace, in court, or for an evening out. it might sound like i'm avoiding referring to the shades as "boring", but if you're talking about investing in a luxury price point lipstick, that's not a bad option. it's like the classic fashion advice that you should invest your money in pieces that have a timeless quality, things that you'll be able to use without worrying about trends. that's what dior lipsticks are [although they're periodically refreshed, as with every lipstick line, to ensure that they don't look old-fashioned].

"times square" occupies the middle space between pink and red- i'd say it ends up in camp pink. usually, shades that straddle the two are very bold, but this one is a restrained raspberry with a slight pearl, which adds more sheen than texture. it's neither especially cool nor especially warm, which makes it most suitable to skin tones that have elements of both [like mine]. unlike a lot of more neutral shades, it lacks a tawny, browned undertone and is instead a colour with the clarity and saturation of flower petals. if you're thinking in sci/art terms, it's an appropriate shade for any spring season mix [maybe less so for the purely warm true spring than any of the four mixes].

times square
the shade slots nicely in my collection between two perennial favourites: guerlain "gracy", which is warmer and pinker, and guerlain "grenade" which is a little cooler, redder and has a more visible pearl. and at $10cad less retail, it's the most affordable luxury of the three, although i can in good conscious say that you wouldn't go wrong buying all of them if these are the sorts of shades that suit you.

l to r :: guerlain grenade, times square, guerlain gracy
about the only objection i have to "times square" is its name. it's neither the neon sleaze of times square in the eighties, nor the mass market tourist haven of today. this shade is more central park or the metropolitan museum: accessible to all, but refined, dignified, classic. so perhaps if you purchase it, you can just attach a sticker to cover the bottom of the tube with a more appropriate moniker, but purchase it you definitely should.

here's what it looks like on me and i'll warrant it'll look at least as nice on you.

products used

the face ::
nars luminous weightless foundation "mont blanc"
nars radiant creamy concealer "vanilla"
chanel crème de blush "chamade"
mac mineralize skinfinish "new vegas"*
mac prep + prime finishing powder

the eyes ::
inglot matte e/s "352"
chanel e/s palette x4 "harmonies du soir"*
urban decay 24/7 e/l "demolition"
dior new look mascara

the lips ::
rouge dior "times square" 

*suggested alternates ::  new vegas = becca moonstone [lighter; becca champagne pearl looks even closer, but it's also limited]; les harmonies du sior = nars dual intensity shadows cassiopoeia + subra + himalia + mac satin taupe [the nars shadows have a similar texture and sheen to the chanel palette]

although they haven't made as big a deal of the new shades as they probably should have [dior is outdone only by mac in the number of products and collections it launches in an average year], the new shades of rouge dior are available everywhere dior cosmetics are sold. go forth and paint yourselves!

30 July 2015

literary #tbt :: marcel duchamp descending a staircase

dom suggested that i should do a "greatest hits" of blog posts in honour of throw-back thursdays, which seems to be what the kids are into these days. when i pointed out to him that i do periodically re-post content [because i'm lazy], he made the more specific suggestion that i re-post some of the stories and poetry i've published here, since that's kind of an important part of what i do. that seemed like a clever idea, so i've decided to take his suggestion and offer a "#tbt story corner". not sure this will be every week, but it's something i'll be doing from time to time. [if you like it, there's always a permanent page with links to all of the stories i've published here.]

i've chosen the story "marcel duchamp descending a staircase, because it's the thing that i've written that's gotten the strangest reactions. despite the fact that it's tagged as "fiction", i've had a number of people approach me to ask me where i got the information and wanting contact information for the narrator. so let me be really clear about this piece: it. is. fiction. i made it up. there are no letters, there was no mistress [or at least, not the one from the story]. and i'm pretty damn certain that duchamp's famous painting is not an attempt at mockery. sorry if that spoils everything for you.

that said, this is one of the few "funny" stories i've ever written and i've always kind of liked it. i can't remember how the idea came to me, but i'm pretty sure wine was involved.


Dear Graham,

It is with great sadness that I am writing to you in order to return your paper submitted for publication for volume three, issue two of Palette. Our reasons for refusing this piece should be obvious and, I believe, wholly expected. Primarily, of course, we are rejecting your analysis because it bears little to no relation to the piece for which you submitted a research in brief, namely, The Cubist Stair: Duchamp, the Body and the Space of a Modern Masterpiece. (I should add that, given that we published your preliminary research on the subject and had announced that your complete paper would be available in our upcoming issue, this rejection is the source of no small embarrassment for us.)

However, it behooves the editorial committee to explain our decision further. Palette is a journal of painting, examining in depth the history and present of painting as art form and we take our mission seriously. We believe that the arts have a far greater contribution to mundane life than that for which they are given credit. The arts in general are under constant threat from those who seek to denigrate the value of creativity in life and it is part of our mandate to protect the craft and gift we cherish from that attack.

It is not part of our mandate to aid in hurling of slings and arrows by presenting gossip as scholarship or by making mockery out of a piece that influenced so many and continues to captivate the imagination.

Furthermore, while we (with some reservations) encourage you to submit more work along the lines of our original proposal, we do want to warn you that our stylistic preferences tend towards the formal, the academic and not to the sort of personal “journal” style you seem to have adopted. Your own relationship with your subject matter may make for pleasant party conversation, but it does not make for a solid piece of research.

I am enclosing your manuscript and I wish you all the best in the future.

Best regards,
Mauice St. Germain
Managing Editor
Palette: A Journal of the Painted Canvas

My experience with the origins of a masterpiece
Dr. Graham L. Kimberly

When I first set out to research the once infamous, now simply famous “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2”, I had expected to spend hours reviewing the notes Marcel Duchamp kept at the time he began his initial sketches for what would become a touch-point of the cubist movement (and would mark the culmination of his association with that movement). I had expected that access to recently unearthed papers, Duchamp’s de facto diary, would lead to a revelation on the mindset of this enigmatic, perplexing artist. Writing now, I am amazed at the extent of the revelation, but I am unsure of what my findings will mean to larger research on the subject.

First, I must thank Mlle. Matilde Proulx of Paris for allowing me access to the Duchamp journals and for serving as my translator while I did my research. Her assistance was invaluable and I believe her decision to make public the diaries that she had inherited from her mother will stand as one of the most important contributions to art history of the decade.


29 July 2015

world wide wednesdays :: friend and foe

a lot of people have heard of the kurds, but many of them couldn't say much about who they are or where they come from, save that they seem to be involved in conflicts all over the middle east, which is largely because they come from all over the middle east. the kurds are one of the largest ethnic groups on earth to not have a nation of their own. there are nearly 40 million kurds worldwide, with the vast majority living in western asia, spread out over four different countries: iran, iraq, syria and turkey. [side note :: there is also a small but significant kurdish population in armenia, although their numbers have dwindled considerably after forced displacements by stalin in the 1930s and during the armenia- azerbaijan war over the territory of ngorno-karabakh.]

the west has difficulty dealing with the kurds and their nationalist movement because of the different relationships western governments have with the countries where they live. there is a shocking hypocrisy in how they are spoken about, depending on the audience and this has resulted in a largely ambivalent reaction to their plight. at the moment, western reaction to the kurds is more conflicted than ever, but is perhaps reaching a boiling point due to the ongoing islamic state conflict. so who are the kurds and why are they so politically contentious? let's have a look, shall we?

the kurds are a people who emerged relatively recently. they were first identified in early medieval times as a distinct people living in modern day iran and iraq, in the zagros mountains and surrounding areas. they are primarily descended from the aryan tribes of iran, with some relation to turkic and arabic groups. mythologically, the kurds are said to be the offspring of angels and the most beautiful of modern women.

two kurdish men flanking a catholic priest
from the beginning of the sixteenth century on, the kurds fell under the dominion of foreign empires. at first, their territories were conquered by the persians, but shortly afterward, they were claimed by the ottomans, who held possession until the end of world war i. although technically under the rule of others, the kurds always maintained a certain level of autonomy and were allowed to keep their own traditions within the empire. early on, the ottomans were clever enough to realise that the way to keep the territory calm was to appoint a kurdish governor and to allow him to administer the lands as he saw fit. and the governors in turn did little to violate the traditional boundaries and customs.

by the nineteenth century, however, the ottomans had had a change of heart and tried to claw back freedoms that had been given to the regions of their empire. that worked out exactly as well as you might expect and in 1880, the first kurdish nationalist revolt had to be put down. its leaders were exiled to istanbul where, presumably, the ottoman government could keep an eye on them. however, the seed was planted.

the turkish genocide against the armenians is increasingly well known, however during that time, the turks also forced about three hundred thousand kurds from their homes and into different regions. almost half the displaced died because of the wretched conditions in which they found themselves, setting the stage for tensions with the turks that continue to this day. their history in the twentieth century has been one of periodic revolt and suppression in all the countries in which they live. and that's where things get complicated.

of the four countries that have a substantial kurdish population, only iran has had much success in stalling nationalist or separatist sentiment in the twentieth century. unsurprisingly, they've done so by giving the kurds freedoms within the state of iran, ensuring their inclusion in parliament [including the appointment of kurds to senior cabinet positions]. the iranian government was even supplying weapons to rebel kurdish factions in iraq for a time. of course, since the kurds are an iranian people, iran has had a much easier time selling the argument that kurds should feel right at home within the existing nation. and kurds represent a smaller percentage of the overall population in iran than they do in other countries. but it's hard not to draw connections between the fact that, while iran suppressed separatist movements in the twenties and maintains a staunchly anti-separatist position, they've had fewer issues with their kurdish population than any other country, and they've been the least repressive.

map of kurdish territories
in iraq and turkey, things are quite different. kurds make up close to 20% of the population of both countries and form majorities in specific regions. both governments have clamped down on the kurds with incredible force in an attempt to club them into submission and the result has been that the kurds have become more militant and more committed to separatism.

just after the first iraq war, the kurds in iraq, sensing that president saddam hussein had been weakened both militarily and politically, rose up to demand a separate state. western media were flooded with images of a bloody civil war, as the kurds found out that hussein's war machine was in far better working order than it had looked against the americans. during that uprising, many westerners found out for the first time that hussein had conducted a genocide against the iraqi kurds in the final days of the iran-iraq war, culminating in the chemical attack on the town of halabja [march 16, 1988], recently captured by iranian and kurdish soldiers working in tandem. this was largely played up in the media in order to illustrate how horrible saddam hussein was and how justified the united states had been in taking him on over his invasion of kuwait.

nevertheless, western politicians shrugged and chewed on their fingernails and wailed that yes, it was tragic, but what could they do? and while a lot of people suggested "how about you repeat what you just did?" that was more or less all we heard. the kurdish rebellion was crushed and saddam hussein lived to fight another day.

so why did the west, who had just clobbered hussein like an elephant stepping on a cockroach, hesitate to help the kurds who were fighting against him? well, for starters, most governments [although not most people] were quite aware of what he had done to the kurds in 1988, how many people had died and what he'd done to kill them. evidence of chemical attacks was later trotted out to justify further attacks against iraq, but in 1988, no one cared very much, because iraq were the good guys fighting evil iran. furthermore, at the time, the americans' greatest ally in the region and their biggest customer in the arms trade was turkey, and they had a kurd problem of their own. [side note :: only three countries, norway, sweden and the united kingdom, have acknowledged that the al-anfal campaign conducted against the kurds in 1988 is a genocide. in 2010, the canadian government passed a resolution that the chemical attack in halabja constituted a crime against humanity. that's small consolation considering that it came long after saddam hussein was executed and because the canadian government had nothing to say at the time about it, but it's still more than most other countries have done. let it never be said that i'm incapable of acknowledging when stephen harper gets something right.]

kurdish demonstrators in turkey
turkey's draconian handling of their kurdish population has been less well-publicized as turkey increasingly became friendly with the west. in the first half of the twentieth century, turkey had aligned itself more with the soviet union and iran, but more recently, it had shifted its affections, not least because the rebellious kurds had adopted a left-wing political stance. the militant wing of the kurdish separatists, the kurdistan workers party [pkk] was officially at war with the turkish government for fifteen years [1984-99] and most western governments have designated it a terrorist organization. that created a conundrum for westerners when the kurds were attacked in iraq, because the kurds on the iraqi side of the border were the exact same as the kurds on the turkish side of the border and, unlike the iranian kurds, both groups were determined to carve out a separate state for themselves. so offering military or even political support for the kurds in iraq would put the lucrative american-turkish relationship in jeopardy. america will take awkwardly looking in another direction for millions of dollars, alex. [side note :: leyla zana, the first kurdish woman ever elected to turkish parliament, was outspoken in her support of her people, even taking the dangerous step of using the illegal kurdish language while giving a speech. she was eventually imprisoned by the government for fomenting revolution or some such and while she was awarded the sakharov prize in europe while she languished in prison, the entire american reaction came from a single member of the 435-seat congress condemning her arrest and imprisonment.]

flash forward to more recent times. specifically, to the uprising in syria against the assad government. although the syrian regime had not been as murderous as either iraq or turkey against the kurdish population, there was still a ban against the kurdish language and hundreds of thousands of kurds living in syria had been denied citizenship, depriving them of even basic rights. no small wonder, then, that syrian kurds fought against the government when civil war broke out and, having been organized for some time, were more successful than other rebel groups. the syrian kurds secured their territory right along the turkish border and have held it ever since.

as things spiraled out of control in syria and the illusion of stability in iraq collapsed, a new enemy of the west emerged from the ruins: the islamic state. having fought hard for their territory, the kurds immediately let i.s. know that they weren't going to just back off in terror and let them take over. in fact, the kurdish armies in syria and iraq have been more successful than anyone in beating back the terrorist group and, while america and the west have stood like heavily armed deer in headlights, ready for a fight, but with no clue what to do. once again, they've refused to outright endorse the actions of the kurds out of fear of alienating turkey, but they're quietly aware of the fact that they owe the kurds big time for holding parts of the middle eastern fort better than anyone else.

kurds are renown for their eyes. now you know why.
very recently, turkey has finally agreed to step up its efforts against islamic state, however its approach is a little... unorthodox. while turkey claims to have bombed i.s. strongholds in the last week, it's also become evident that they're bombing kurdish-held areas. which means that their approach is not merely to get rid of isis, but also to get rid of the people who might benefit from fighting isis on their own. it's a weird and risky tactic, because the turks are counting not only on continuing domestic support [we'll get to that in a minute], but on the continued willingness of the united states and nato to look the other way when it comes to turkish attacks on kurds. that's a gamble on both fronts, since the situation is bad enough in iraq that the west doesn't have many places to look for help, and iraqi kurdistan remains their best option.

so why would turkey take such a risk? for that, we have to look at the turkish government. more specifically, we have to look at the fact that, while turkey has a head of state, it doesn't actually have a government and hasn't for a couple of months, because the party of president recep tayyip erdogan took a pounding in his country's june elections failed to secure a parliamentary majority and have been unable to establish a working coalition. much of the support went to the left-wing kurdish-based people's democratic party [hdp], who picked up a substantial number of votes from turks who are uncomfortable with erdogan's islamist [as opposed to secular, long the norm in turkey] agenda. erdogan needs to defeat the kurds far more than he needs to defeat isis, because it's not the islamic state that's nipping at his political heels. [side note :: it's been alleged that the erdogan government has much closer ties to islamic state than they admit and that in their desire to see the downfall of regional rival and secularist bashir assad in syria, they've ended up becoming collaborators with the world's most reviled terror group.]

turkey's point-blank response to criticism is that they consider both isis and the syrian kurds [who are aligned with the turkish pkk] to be terrorist groups, and that all their western allies do as well. so to their way of thinking, why should they focus on just taking out one terrorist group, when they could take out two? cue an extremely uncomfortable reaction from the west. after all, no one here has ever said that the syrian or iraqi kurds were terrorists, far from it. in syria, they were a trustworthy resistance to the assad government. in iraq, they were victims of saddam hussein, evil dictator. it's only in turkey that their actions have been condemned.

it's been hard to come by
and recently, there's a new wrinkle in the kurdish tapestry: the united states has started to become friendly with iran again. remember what i said before about iran supporting the iraqi kurds? that hasn't subsided. although the iranians won't hear of a separatist movement in their own country, they're not unsympathetic to the idea of a kurdish republic. [after all, the iranians have more in common with the kurds than they do with iraqis, turks or syrians, although they have supported the syrian government.] and the kurds, in deference to the fact that they have shown support in the past, haven't pushed claims to iranian territory as they have in other countries. thus does iran become a wild card in turkey's game of regional poker. erdogan is betting that the u.s. would rather maintain a good relationship with turkey at pretty much any cost, but it's no longer the nineties and the enemy is no longer a single head of state.

sooner or later, of course, the united states and their allies are going to have to shit or get off the kurdish pot. the idea of an american-kurd alliance is unacceptable for turkey, but it will become increasingly untenable for the west to express sympathy and support for the kurds in one country while outright condemning them in another. if the kurds can continue to fight off isis [although, now that they have to fight against turkey as well, there's no guarantee that they can, especially since some have estimated that they've already overextended the strength of their army.] that process might be accelerated if erdogan's party continues to fail at forming a government. that would force new elections, which might well push the balance of power even more towards the left and, by extension, to the kurds. as president, erdogan himself wouldn't lose his power, but he'd be forced to work with a parliament that holds a far different agenda. he might look to his erstwhile american allies to see how well that works out.

for the moment, events have reached a kind of standoff. the kurds who fought against hussein and assad and who have been successful against isis where other regional governments with larger militaries have failed, justifiably feel that they've done everything to deserve u.s. support. turkey, however, remains a powerhouse and pretty much america's only remaining ally in the region now that hosni mubarak has been deposed. no one can [or should] say that they didn't see this coming- although they probably will. the for america, nato and the west now is: are the kurds your friends or your foe? because they can't continue to be both.

27 July 2015

mental health mondays [rewind] :: problem or no problem?

mental health mondays is on summer vacation, but that doesn't mean that i'm not thinking about these issues. it's practically a full-time job just bookmarking and reading things for its triumphant return in the fall.

in the meantime, i thought i'd share an older post, just to reassure you that, yes, it's always mental health mondays here in more like space land and because the subject of mental health has been on my mind a lot lately.



perhaps harold has a problem?
the first time i heard about "social anxiety disorder" was in a discussion with my mother. at the time, i believe that both of us gave a derisive snort and one of us said "great, now shyness is a mental disorder". frankly, i suspect that a lot of people had that reaction, because many of us have some level of social anxiety. what we missed in the initial evaluation is that the important part of the name, however, is that the emphasis should be placed on the third word. disorder means that something is clearly wrong, that the person is suffering and prevented from engaging in certain activities that they would otherwise want or have to do. it doesn't just mean reticence or a tendency to withdraw a little in public situations. a few years ago, i was going out to get some groceries and i became so terrified of going outside, of having to talk to a cashier or even of passing others on the street that i had to sit down on the stairs to get my breathing and heartbeat under control. i sat there for more than half an hour, paralysed between the knowledge that there were things we needed at the grocery store and the overwhelming dread at the thought of venturing beyond the doors. that's when i realised my mother and i had been wrong to snort. it's a real problem. but our reaction did point to a conundrum: how do you distinguish the harmless personality trait from the disorder?

the first thing that needs to be acknowledged is that the two things are not entirely separate. if shyness is severe enough, it can indeed be called social anxiety disorder, so there is space where the two overlap. however, social anxiety is not only a disorder of the shy. many sufferers are quite extroverted, but their internal dialogue prevents them from being able to do so.

shyness generally manifests itself as a discomfort in front of others, especially strangers. shy people are quiet and can be unwilling to talk about themselves or their opinions, but they can be comfortable listening to others and participating more passively in a social situation. for a person with social anxiety, the fear of interacting with people is so strong that they'll try to avoid it whenever possible. avoidance is a key factor in differentiating social anxiety disorder from general shyness. when a person avoids doing things that are perfectly normal or beneficial [like going for groceries] out of fear. shyness, even acute, will not cause this sort of panic and debilitation.

another factor to consider is how the person progresses in social interaction. shy people may lack self-confidence, but they may simply be slow to adjust to unfamiliar situations. this is an understandable evolutionary holdover. unfamiliar often meant threatening to our ancestors and so remaining guarded around strangers or in new surroundings served as protection. people who are shy will tend to relax and open up a little more as they realise that they are safe and accepted. people with social anxiety disorder never reach that point, because their anxiety is not driven by a fear of the unfamiliar. it's driven by an exceptionally low sense of self-esteem.

people with social anxiety disorder don't just feel awkward in front of people- they feel judged. they are usually terrified that others are finding fault in them, because they find great faults in themselves. this is not alleviated with time and sufferers will often recall incidents where they felt they humiliated themselves long after anyone else. social anxiety disorder is characterised by harmful thoughts, self-hating and defeatist ideas that are projected onto others. people with the disorder believe that they are subject to greater focus, with negative consequences.

a final key factor in separating routine shyness from disordered thought is anticipation. shy people might feel uneasy in social situations, but they don't generally think too much about it beforehand. they might have a distaste for public events, but the thought of attending one isn't enough to trigger panic attacks. people with social anxiety disorder become stressed just thinking about social situations. the anticipation in itself is enough to trigger panic and dread [and this in turn leads to avoidance].

one thing that most psychiatrists agree on is that social anxiety disorder is rarely the sole problem for sufferers. most often, it is comorbid with other conditions, such as depression, where low self-esteem triggers a number of other issues. people with social anxiety will often "self-medicate" in order to overcome their fear, which can lead to substance abuse. social anxiety can also be symptomatic of broader anxiety problems, such as generalised anxiety or panic disorder. the presence of other disorders makes treating social anxiety more complicated, as you might imagine.

if you think that you might have social anxiety disorder, the good news is that there is treatment. the first step is to consult a medical professional for their opinion and diagnosis, but since talking to others might seem problematic, you might also want to take a look at the following resources:

the criteria used to diagnose social anxiety disorder
the liebowitz social anxiety scale test [a very helpful quiz that evaluates levels of both fear and avoidance in a number of situations]
a self-help guide to differentiating social anxiety from shyness
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