30 November 2015

mental health mondays :: beautiful minds

a friend posted this article on facebook this morning and i thought that it was a lovely way to brighten up a decided gloomy november monday, when many people reading this are recovering from a long weekend. [i'm not, but since i work from home, weekends are a bit ephemeral.]

the article has more information on the techniques used, but here's my summary: greg dunn is an artist who originally started out on a very different path. he holds a phd in neuroscience and has used his earlier work to inspire his creativity. using painting and etching techniques, he makes art from microscopic images taken of human brains.

he makes doodles of your noodle.

while his work might not tell you anything about your mental health, it does provide a remarkable insight into the complexity of the human brain and all of the things that dwell within it. and i have to agree that there is an intrinsic similarity between the minutiae of our minds and the sparse, elegant beauty of asian, or asian-inspired, art. is part of our connection to abstract art based on the fact that we can quite literally sense something of ourselves in it? i have no idea, but doesn't that seem like it might make an interesting topic for a research paper? sort of like how we are naturally attracted to people who resemble ourselves or our parents.

here are a few pieces of dunn's artwork to enjoy, but for a really in-depth look and to see pieces he has for sale, be sure to check out his web site.

29 November 2015

armchair centreback :: success through pizza and punching

say my name!
first off all, a mighty round of congratulations to mr. jamie vardy, who is now not only the top scorer in the premier league, but the man who holds the record for the longest run of games [eleven, as of today] in which he's scored. not bad for a guy who three years ago was practicing his shot-taking with his garage door. i assure you, no soccer fan today hears the name jamie vardy and wonders who you're talking about. hats' off to you, young sir. [he's 28. that's not young for a professional soccer player by any stretch. -ed.] [way to make me want to hang myself. -kate.]

of course, when people do hear about vardy's record-breaking weekend, there is a very good chance they will have an arrested development moment: "him?" after all, the man whose record he bested, ruud van nistelrooy, is regarded as one of the finest midfielders ever in the modern premier league era, an icon of the ferguson era manchester united that dispatched opponents like the eye of sauron turned on a pesky mosquito. jamie vardy is a member of a team that, this time last year, was so far in the bottom of the league that even the teams near the relegation zone couldn't see them anymore. then the team mounted one of the most unbelievable comebacks in history, which has seen the former cellar-dwellers lose two games since april of this year. today's tie means they're pushed a point back in the standings, but at the beginning of the weekend, they were the top team in league and are still a tight second. 

from another perspective, leicester city, with a wage budget of just over fifty million pounds, today held the mighty manchester, with a budget seven times that amount, to a tie. a cash outlay that would be significant to a lot of nations has left the "new new" manchester united as the stingiest defense in the league, which is like waking up one morning and finding out that channing tatum is suddenly known solely for his nuanced acting skills. leicester, by contrast, have a more porous defense, but make up for that by scoring lots and lots and lots, which is exactly what united used to do. [there's an added strangeness to watching the two teams play because anchoring the leicester team is goalkeeper kasper schmeichel, the son and near doppleganger of peter schmeichel, who skilfully managed the goal for manchester united during the ferguson glory days.]

the viking genes are strong here
although leicester's enviable form spans two seasons and two managers, it's pretty obvious that current manager claudio ranieri is doing something right. and what he's doing right appears to be pizza parties. whereas the dour louis van gaal talks about how his players don't dare question him, ranieri promises pizza for all if the team keeps a clean sheet. leicester players might not be making manchester united money, but you can be sure that they can afford their own pizza. with extra cheese. you see what's happening here: it's not exactly about the pizza. 

in another, more northern part of the country, a much-loved team with a lot of frustrated fans of late has also made a managerial change. last year, dom's wish for his beloved arsenal was that they finally cut the strangely knotted cords that have bound them to manager arsène wenger and bring in the then manager of borussia dortmund, jürgen klopp. if you ever wanted proof that santa is kind of a cunt, not only did he fail to deliver klopp to arsenal, but a few weeks into this season, the man took the helm at liverpool. 

of course, if you follow the sport at all, you know this, because you couldn't possibly not know it. the excitement of having one of the hottest managers on the planet come to anfield has outpaced the fervour for any player on the team. for any player on any team, with the possible exception of vardy. then again, it's not hard to see why. 

after a year of the self-important grandstanding of not-so-much-value-for-money van gaal, or the increasingly erratic antichrist jose mourinho, klopp is like an almost literal ray of sunshine, with that [bleached] golden mop and [bleached] dazzling smile. tall, handsome and oozing charisma from every pore, he's also refreshingly down to earth. in his first press conference, he parried mourinho's self-selected moniker of "the special one" by calling himself "the normal one". sports reporters throughout the country have been fawning over him like groupies, but when you consider that they've been on a steady diet of mourinho tantrums, you get it. i'm guessing that the press room at the recent liverpool-chelsea game required a healthy supply of smelling salts to revive journalists after they fainted from sheer ecstasy. 

cue the choirs of angels
klopp is the real deal. he managed to take borussia dortmund to the top of the german bundesliga while spending a fraction [a moderately large fraction, but still fractional] of normal champions bayern munich. after a rough start the following year and after piggy old bayern gouged his team of their best players, dortmund rallied to climb far enough back up the table to at least qualify for european football. the improvement in liverpool, even if they're still struggling to score goals [again, contrary to what's normally been the case], they look like they just won the lottery. 

the new manager hasn't spent a cent on talent. even with an injury to his natural first choice striker daniel sturridge that seems to have persisted for longer than sturridge has been alive, he's worked with what he's been given and thus far has lost only one game in all competitions. [to crystal palace and alan pardew, who might be the most underrated manager in the premier league.] he hasn't handed out new bonuses, he hasn't even made radical changes to the weekly lineup. but this is still a completely different group than the one that started the season. because, one suspects, they're just as enthralled with having him as everyone else. he's known for his animated, passionate style, which has been on full display since his arrival. he's also known for an energetic, physical interaction with his players, spending time one on one with each of them and thinking nothing of playfully smacking them in the head as a way of getting them psyched up for a game, something that would sound like a bad cliché of a high school football coach if it didn't seem to be working so well. 

as chelsea improbably continue to flounder and jose mourinho and his bully tactics seem to have worn thin with his players, as they almost always do over three years with him, it does seem like there's been a sea change in what works when managing a multi-million dollar enterprise for the most popular sport in the world. so what's the magic spell? 

treat the game like it's a game. no one will die because of it, but that doesn't make getting excited about it any less enjoyable. so yes, there's a lot of money at play. but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have some fun.
as a manager, you are a boss whose employee base is made up entirely of young men, many of them barely out of or still in their teens. and all the big salaries and media stardom doesn't change the fact that young men want to feel appreciated and they want to feel that sense of bonding with those around them. 

so sometimes, it's about more than tactics and training. sometimes, a good performance is as simple as pizza or a punch in the arm. 

26 November 2015

making faces :: oh my, it's more armani-ness

i did promise a while back that i had a bunch more armani trinkets to show you and it's about damn time i got around to making good on that promise. last time around, i looked at the eye tints that armani had launched in the late summer/ early fall, which somehow ended up following me home when i wasn't paying attention. [yes, that is the best story i could come up with.] this time around, i'm looking at some of the luscious lip products that blew in through the window to keep their friends company.

starting with familiar territory, armani staged a "stealth launch" of half a dozen new shades of their rouge d'armani sheer lipstick formula. unfortunately, i haven't managed to find more than three of the six new shades and i've found different ones at different counters. i'm guessing that this may be somewhat easier if you live in a place that has more or larger armani counters. certainly, it's less of an issue if you can order from armani directly, since everything is in stock there. here's a look at the shades that were released [credit to instagrammer tuksya, who is a great source of things armani]:

of the ones i did find, the one that i knew immediately i couldn't live without was #403 "burning sun". it's a fascinating shade that is likely to vary a lot from one person to  another. the based is a papaya orange, but there's some extremely fine shimmer in pink and violet that gives it a much cooler sheen. the overall colour looks a little bit more like the inside of a pink grapefruit when seen from a distance. the shimmer doesn't read as frosty at all, merely as a veil of cool pink over the warmer orange base. it's this sort of shade that draws people to higher end lipsticks to begin with, i think. it's subtle and the clash of shades lurking within it makes for something a little surreal when seen up close, but subtle and ladylike at more of a distance.

while it falls well short of opacity, "burning sun" packs a lot of [tropical fruit] punch, so it's not the sort of thing that will go unnoticed.

403/ burning sun
i struggled to find shades that looked like this one. nars "autumn leaves" is fairly close to the base [orange] colour, but looks darker and browner because of "burning sun's" overlay. the closest shade i found was chanel "mandarin", one of their discontinued rouge allure lacque liquid lipsticks. "mandarin" is redder and more opaque, but it has that same "cool over warm" feeling to it.

l to r :: nars autumn leaves, burning sun, chanel mandarin [d.c.]
i wish that armani would pay more attention to this formula, which hasn't been properly refreshed [where they let people know that it's being done] since its launch in 2012. it's a very nice balance for a sheer lipstick: even colour, moderate translucency, somewhat moisturizing and i find it longer lasting and less prone to migrating or feathering than a lot of semi-sheer formulas. here's a review and swatches of all six new shades, because armani certainly doesn't want to help you find out anything about them.

here's a quick look at "burning sun" in action, back when we had some burning sun around.

i unfortunately didn't write down what else i'm wearing, although i *think* there are some shades from the original urban decay naked palette on my eyes.

i'm going to give the company a little benefit of the doubt and theorise that maybe they weren't paying close attention to the new sheer colours, because they were focused on the brand new rouge ecstasy lacquer line that was following hot on its heels. and i can't really blame them for that. at first, i was shocked that they were revamping their lip gloss line yet again, because they've done it two times in the last four years. but it turns out that while the ecstasy lacquers look glossy, they're not really glosses. or they are glosses, but they're not glosses the way that other glosses are glosses.

i've lost you, haven't i?

world wide wednesdays :: sex and violence

today is apparently the international day to eliminate violence against women, the beginning of sixteen days of activism against gender-based violence that ends on december 10, which is human rights day. given thst, i thought it would be a good day to explore the perils of being a woman in different parts of the world, as well as the progress that's been made. the fact that there is still plenty to do in order to achieve equality in the western world [and the fact that advances that have been made are always fragile, as is seen in the ongoing american debate over access to abortion], can cause us to lose focus on exactly how big the challenges are in other places. we hear about the brutal practice of female genital mutilation, but there are a lot of other dangers women continue to face, including both violence and structural impediments to independence and security.

before completely moving away from the first world, however, it's interesting to note that, while wealthy countries are generally safer, more secure and more equal for women, some of them have some pretty nasty secrets:

the nordic countries- denmark, finland, and sweden- have the highest rates of violence against women in all of europe. that's shocking, considering that these are the countries that routinely lead all structural categories in terms of gender equality [literacy and education, minimal to no wage gap, high rates of representation in the workforce and in the government]. my first inclination was to think that these countries had laws that defined a wider range of actions as violent and/ or illegal, but looking at the article, it seems that researchers asked about specific actions, so what is or isn't illegal in any particular country wouldn't matter.

canada, which has been rated the best country for women to live in the recent past, has been singled out for criticism by amnesty international for ignoring the much higher rates of violence towards aboriginal women. that actually means that things are even better for the rest of us than it appears, but hidden inside those numbers are some very harsh realities.

a family member feeds a banished menstruating woman in nepal
in carefree australia, nearly 40% of women reported experiencing some type of violence during their lifetime, and almost 20% said specifically that they had reported sexual violence. [data here, along with a lot of information on other countries. this was compiled by the united nations in 2012, however some of the most recent data is significantly older than that.]

so if things can get that bad in the countries that are good, how bad do they get in the rest of the world?

well, let's start off by talking about the worst of the worst. there are different ways of determining the absolute worst place for a woman, but it's best to look at a combination of factors: the chance of being subjected to physical and/ or sexual violence, the [in]ability to exercise control over one's own life, ability to work and live independently [determined by education level and the chances of finding employment in current economic conditions], longevity [which is a measure of general health and a measure of access to health care services] and political power [determined not just by voting rights, but by representation in parliament and in cabinet].

looking at all those factors, you'd be hard-pressed to find a place that's worse for women than afghanistan. life expectancy for a woman is only forty-five years. more than half of brides are younger than sixteen. 85% of women have experienced some form of domestic violence. a woman dies in childbirth every half hour. the taliban were bad enough for women's rights, but after a wave of reforms enacted by the post-taliban government, it seems that things are getting worse. laws passed to improve the position of women in afghanistan after the taliban were deposed have been overturned, hung up in parliamentary debate, or left largely unenforced.    

you could also look at syria, where women's participation in the workforce sits at a measly 14% [as opposed to 76% of men]. before its current civil strife, syria had a solid middle class [much like iraq, before the first american war there devastated its economy], but the position of women in government was pathetic: 12% of parliamentary seats and 9% of cabinet positions were held by women. the plight of women in syria has only gotten worse as the civil war there has progressed and as islamic state has taken control of large parts of the country. isis dictates that women be severely restricted in education [beginning no earlier than seven and ending no later than fifteen years of age] and that they can be married off to fighters from the age of nine. they are given no role in public life and are forced to remain completely covered at all times.

women in chad
the thing is, afghanistan and syria are war zones, which aren't the best place to evaluate quality of life. women in afghanistan may have a life expectancy of a meagre forty-five years, but men can only expect to live a year longer. women in syria have a life expectancy of sixty-five years, which is short in western terms but, since the onset of the civil war, is still ten years longer than a syrian man can expect to live.

so perhaps it's best to evaluate the position of women by looking at areas outside of war zones. [side note :: likewise, countries like honduras, venezuela and colombia, which have extremely high crime rates overall are exceptionally dangerous for women. women are often subject to kidnapping, sexual violence and murder, and crimes against them are treated less seriously than those against men. one has only to look at the horrific spate of murders in and around ciudad juarez for an example of this.]

for instance, in iran, only 17% of women participate in the workforce. that's the worst in the world outside of active war zones and, because that isn't depressing enough, they make only 17% of what men make. there's clearly a prejudice at work here, because, while there is a gender gap in terms of literacy, 79% of women still qualify as literate [compared to 89% of men]. religious leaders [who are also state leaders in the theocracy] have put additional pressure on women to stay at home and raise children rather than enter the workforce. women's participation in government is already low and in the last federal elections, all female candidates were disqualified.

in nepal, normally thought of as a peaceful country nestled in the heart of the himalayas, women's rights are more of a rumour than anything else. 1 in 24 women dies in childbirth, largely due to hindu and buddhist religious beliefs that prevent them from having their babies in hospitals. after childbirth, women are often forced to stay in remote, unhygienic locations, away from their homes, for up to two weeks. child marriage and human trafficking of young orphaned or unmarried women is still widely practiced. women who are married, but outlive their husbands are often stigmatized [and persecuted] as witches.

an afghani child bride who escaped her abusive husband
large swathes of africa remain incredibly dangerous and difficult for women. mali and chad are especially bad. the labour force disparity is not as bad in either country as it is in other places, but that is largely the result of an economy based on subsistence agriculture in both places. in both countries, only about a quarter of women are literate [chad fairing slightly better at 28% to mali's 25%] and female enrollment in even primary school is below 65% in both countries. the participation of women in government in both countries is among the lowest in the world- 10% in mali and 15% in chad- meaning that there are few people to advocate for women's rights on a federal level. women in mali have a life expectancy of forty-eight years, which is among the lowest in the world [and just slightly lower than afghanistan which, as we mentioned earlier, is a war zone]. in mali, 71% of women are married before the age of eighteen, many of those before the age of fifteen. additionally, mali still practices widespread female genital mutilation, with over 90% of women having undergone some form of the procedure. what's worse is that that number is unchanged in the last twenty years, so there has been no improvement whatsoever.

in 2014, both the world economic forum and the social institutions gender index selected yemen as the worst place for women. women there are entirely under the control of their husbands, fathers or brothers, unable to travel or even leave the house without their express consent. half of women are married before they turn eighteen and almost fifteen percent before they turn fifteen. while the literacy rate for men is relatively high [83%], only about half of women are literate. 26% of women are employed, compared to 74% of men, but the vast majority of women work as agricultural labourers, where their employment is determined on a day-to-day basis and where they have no form of job security or recourse against unfair employers. nor do women have any voice in government: only one out of 301 members of parliament is a woman.

common types of female genital mutilation
among g-20 countries, the one that fares the worst when it comes to women's rights is india. this is a somewhat contentious evaluation, because india is an extremely diverse country by any standard and it's therefore difficult to generalize about the nation as a whole. in 2012, nearly a quarter of a million crimes against women were reported, which is high even given the large population. the capital of delhi is viewed as especially dangerous. the government's own numbers report a rape rate of more than 25%, which has caused numerous countries to issue warnings to women not to travel alone there. in fact, india topped a list by a women's travel site of the worst places for women to travel alone. that said, india still fares well better in terms of women's rights than the neighbouring countries of nepal, afghanistan and pakistan. while it might seem horrifically depressing that one in four women report being raped and nearly 70% report being victims of domestic violence, it's worth noting that india has made greater efforts in the last ten to fifteen years to address gender violence. before 2005, it was difficult for a woman to even file charges of domestic abuse, so the increasing rate there is likely more indicative that women are reporting incidents more often.

in a previous world wide wednesdays, we talked about the horrific gender violence in papua new guinea, which makes it surprising that the nation doesn't fare worse in evaluations of women's rights and opportunities.

in order to write this up, i used a few different sources, including some different lists, with different criteria, for evaluating the places where women are at the greatest risk. there's a more subjective one here [the only one to even mention papua new guinea and that only in passing]. a widely cited one using information from the world economic forum is here. this one draws information from a number of sources to come up with its list. other sources have already been linked within the post.

you'll note that a couple of those links also lead to lists of where women have it the best: belgium, france, spain and slovenia all rank very highly.

as you can see, there is much work to do and there is work to do even in those places where things are going well. the important thing is always to keep an eye on what needs to happen and where the need is most urgent. 

24 November 2015

mental health mondays :: a bill is due

don't look now, but america's infamously ineffective congress may be on the verge of getting something done. something important.

rep. tim murphy [a republican, no less and also the only psychiatrist in congress] has paired with texas democrat eddie bernice johnson [a psychiatric nurse] to put forward the helping families in mental health crisis act, meant to bring about serious reforms in the way that the american health industry deals with the mentally ill [h.r.-2646]. at the same time, senator bill cassidy [r-la] and senator chris murphy [d-ct] have introduced a bill in the senate [s. 1945] called the mental health reform act of 2015.

this is actually a second kick at the crazy can for murphy #1 and johnson, whose earlier bill was heavily criticised by those involved in the psychiatric care industry. this time around, reactions have been better. mental health america, a century-old not for profit group, has offered their cautious support for murphy-johnson, labelling it "a good start".  they've also offered qualified support for the senate bill, although they do note that there is an important difference between the two in terms of the funding to be allocated to helping those with mental health issues. [side note :: the murphy-cassidy bill is cosponsored by susan m. collins r-me, al franken d-mn, debbie stabenow d-mi and david vitter r-la]

another not for profit group, the treatment advocacy centre has given enthusiastic support to murphy-johnson, but does not appear to have taken an official position on murphy-cassidy.

this recap from the american psychiatric association gives a summary of the key points in murphy johnson. if you're feeling hardcore, you can read the complete text of the bill here. and then if you really want to dive in, you can also read the full text of the senate bill here. after all that, i have nothing else to offer you.

well, almost nothing.

one of the more controversial aspects of the bill is that it makes it easier for friends and family to force treatment on someone they believe is sick. that's a godsend for people who have lost someone they loved because they felt powerless to intervene, but for others it's a very scary pathway to stripping the mentally ill of their rights, especially since the bill is at best vague about the legal recourse of those who feel they've been unfairly sequestered.

the important thing is that there is actual legislation on the table. the even more important thing is that it's the first legislation that moves towards getting the mentally ill out of prison and into hospitals, making sure that there are enough hospitals available to care for patients and working on solutions that allow patients to remain in their communities or in their homes while receiving treatment.

we've talked about what other countries are doing to address the issue of mental health treatment and chances are this won't be the last time there's a post about these two pieces of legislation. but for now, it's a miracle: the least effective congress in history may be the one that pushes through meaningful, long overdue reform on a very complicated issue.

p.s. :: if you don't recognise the image at the top of this post, it is from the iconic schoolhouse rock "i'm just a bill" [watch it here!], which is still the source of 90% of my knowledge about the american legislative process. the rest comes from the simpsons treatment of the original
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