28 September 2015

mental health mondays :: vote with your crazy

this post is specifically focused on the upcoming canadian election. october 19, canadians go to the polls [at least they should] to elect a new government. [i say "new" because even if the same party gets elected, the allocation of seats is going to change, which will make it different. i'm not making any assumptions and neither should you.] there are many issues the country is facing right now and mental health isn't one that will get a lot of attention. i'm not angry about that, because it's not a primary concern for most people, but that doesn't mean that it should completely fall by the wayside. to that end, i've developed a list of questions that interested people may want to ask of the candidates in their riding. if they are canvassing for your vote, they should be able to answer some basic questions on an issue that's of importance to you.

before we move onto the questions, though, i thought it would be helpful to mention what's actually included in each party's platform. as you might guess, it's not much and no one was as surprised as i to discover that one of the parties specifically mentions mental health as a priority within their platform. but here is the current stance of each of the three parties expected to have a shot at forming a federal government, along with the emergent green party and the regionally focused bloc quebecois.

bloc quebecois :: no mention of specific health priorities at all, let alone mental health, but the party does promise to demand an additional $3.3 billion from the federal government to improve healthcare. it's important to note that the bloc believe that many powers of the federal government should be devolved to the provinces.

conservative party :: so you're aware, this is not an election-specific platform, but a policy document for the party as a whole. i couldn't actually find an election policy document, which isn't all that odd for a party in power, because they're running on their record as much as anything. that said, the party policy is frustratingly vague about anything. that's not unexpected, since it's supposed to be flexible, but it doesn't tell you much about their specific plans. there is an emphasis on auditing medicare and ensuring that the services are delivered in a financially responsible and effective way. one potentially interesting note is that the party is committed to offering freedom of choice for natural health products, many of which purport to have benefits for mental health. [side note :: it might surprise some people to know that the conservative party also opposes any legislation that would restrict access to abortion.]

green party :: unsurprisingly, the party has a strong commitment to health care. there is no specific mention of mental health, but they do confirm a commitment to a national pharmacare program, which would reduce the cost of all medications, as well as to offering incentives designed to encourage people to take a proactive approach to their health. they also promise to be far more rigourous in assessing which drugs will be made available in the canadian market.

liberal party :: um... i looked through their plan and i couldn't find anything related to health in general, let alone mental health. there are some plans specific to seniors, which is what turned up when i searched for "health". it's possible that i missed something, although i did honestly try several methods. if there is something there, i'm happy to edit this post with the updated information.

new democratic party :: the sole party to mention mental health in their policy document, the ndp promises a new "innovation fund" designed to improve care and decrease wait times. the party is also committed to a national drug program, hiring more doctors and nurses and establishing a network of community health care centres and launching a plan to address alzheimer's and dementia [a serious issue in an aging population].

now that you know roughly where each of the parties stand, here's a few questions that you can pose to anyone calling on behalf of a political party, or any candidate who comes to your door to ask for your vote. the idea is to reinforce that there is a need for a national strategy on mental health, so don't immediately dismiss someone who can't answer these questions off the top of their head. ask that they get back to you, which they should be capable of doing.

patients with serious mental disorders are disproportionately poor, but often require more types of medication or higher dosages of medication than others. what will your party do to ensure that these people are able to afford their prescriptions, including meeting the needs of those who are homeless?
treatment for mental disorders is understood to be a twofold process: medication to control symptoms and therapy to address root causes and assist patients in dealing with their disorder on a daily basis. although drugs are generally covered [at least partially] by public and private health care plans, coverage for therapy is extremely limited. what will your party do to ensure ongoing accessibility to both forms of care?
the impact of mental health issues for canadian business is well into the billions of dollars, with billions of dollars more billed to public health care programs as a result of common disorders in the workplace. what will your party do in order to incentivize employers to be proactive in addressing mental health concerns, implementing measures to stop this costly problem before it develops?
canada has an aging population, which means that age-related ailments such as alzheimer's and dementia will increase substantially in the coming years. what is your party's plan to accommodate the inevitable demand on the health care system?
what is your party's plan to expand support for those living with and caring for a person with a mental disorder?

there are many more questions, of course, but those are going to give you a pretty good idea of where your candidates stand on the issues. once you know, give it some serious consideration when deciding who is to get your vote.

don't forget to confirm that you're registered to vote! also, if you or someone you know is mobility impaired, most political parties will happily offer their supporters assistance in getting to the voting booth on election day. 

paranoid theory of the week :: was pope john paul i murdered?

pope john paul i
well, it seems like everyone in north america has gone crazy for all things pope, so there's no point in me fighting it.

this week, we're looking at the rumours surrounding the death of albino luciani, who became pope john paul i. he was a reluctant pope who had initially told those close to him that he would decline if elected, but who ultimately decided to take the position out of a sense of obligation. history has distorted his legacy somewhat, painting him as a naive country pastor overwhelmed by the demands of the papacy and the political machinations of the vatican and as a radical who sought to reform the church and who may have made powerful enemies as a result.

the truth is a little more complicated: luciani wanted to make the papacy more "human" and more accessible to the layperson, which meant that he often used popular, rather than philosophical, references in his speeches. the chief reason that he was selected was because of his warmth and ability to connect with the common person, so it is hardly a surprise that this was his approach. he graduated magna cum laude with a phd in 1947. he was not an intellectual lightweight.

his reputation as a reformer comes mainly because of the conservatism of his successor. although luciani was dedicated to the modernisation of the church in line with the principles outlined in the second vatican council [usually referred to as just "vatican ii"], his positions on issues like divorce, women in the priesthood and abortion were very conservative and he advocated disciplinary measures for priests who spoke out in favour of left wing causes while he was cardinal of venice. his reputation as a radical most likely stems from his time as a bishop, when he advocated for wealthy western countries to dedicate 1% of their annual budgets to the developing world as an obligatory acknowledgement of the harm that they were inflicting in order to make money. that is a pretty strong statement, but it's not like, even as pope, he would have had the power to force such a thing.

when john paul i died only 33 days into his papacy, the questions of what he might have accomplished became wide open. that and the sudden nature of his death provided plenty of fodder for conspiracy theorists who felt that there was more than met the eye.

john paul in the company of jean-marie cardinal villot
the theory ::
pope john paul i was murdered and the crime was covered up by highly placed sources at the vatican.

the origin ::
the italian press, who smelled a rat within hours of the pope's death.

the believers :: 
british crime writer david yallop was one of the first to write in detail about the case and his book in god's name is still considered the, er, bible of john paul conspiracy studies. robert hutchinson wrote a book on a related topic called their kingdom come: inside the secret world of opus dei, about a group within the catholic church. his contention is that there were a number of officials who opposed the work of opus dei who died unexpectedly from heart attacks that might actually have been poisonings. his opinion is that john paul i could have been one of those dispatched opponents. the italian press has never backed off the idea that there was something amiss in the death. rebellious priest georges de nantes spent a great deal of time assembling evidence against the vatican. from a very different sphere, mark e. smith, the vocalist for the fall, wrote a play about the papal murder conspiracy called hey, luciani.

the bad guys ::
opus dei, the masonic p2 lodge, the mafia, higher ups from the vatican bank, vatican secretary of state jean-marie villot and/ or cardinal john patrick cody of chicago.

the evidence ::
there is a reason why the italian press seized on the idea of a conspiracy almost immediately after the pope's death. everything about his death from the discovery of the body to who was contacted and what became of the papal corpse was handled in a fashion that could at best be called bizarre. and the more people began to look into it, the more bizarre it got.

although it's been disputed, it seems relatively safe to assume that the body was discovered by sister vincenza, a nun who had been in his service for more than two decades, since he was bishop of vittorio venezia. she alerted his two secretaries, who immediately called on cardinal jean-marie villot, who lived in the vatican apartments as well. villot took charge of events and immediately established himself as one of the most suspicious characters in conspiracy history.

he insisted that no one speak about what had happened until he gave the ok, then set about calling the vatican mortuary and arranging the have the body embalmed. before a doctor had even officially pronounced him dead. villot did finally send for the vatican doctor who confirmed that, yes, the pope had died and said that it was, in his opinion, because of a heart attack. myocardial infarction is the default setting when it comes to determining cause of death. in the absence of evidence pointing to anything else, it's assumed that the person died of a heart attack. so the doctor's diagnosis should be taken with a grain of salt: it's just his way of saying that he didn't see evidence of anything else. it's not like he had a chance in the time he was there in the pope's bedroom to do a detailed examination.

archbishop paul marcinkus and pope john paul ii
one of the papal secretaries was uneasy enough about the proceedings that he called john paul's personal doctor in venice, despite the order from villot that no one was to be contacted except by him. the doctor was shocked, because he had recently given the pope a clean bill of health and told the secretary he was driving to the vatican that day.

the doctor might as well have taken his time, because once the body had been removed, villot ordered the papal apartments to be cleaned. by the end of the day, none of john paul i's possessions remained there. granted, he'd only been there a little over a month and he wasn't laden with possessions, but it was still an extremely quick clean out of a nineteen-room residence. in most places, villot could have been charged with a crime for disturbing the scene before a proper pathologist had determined the cause of death. however, the vatican is a separate state with its own [mostly ceremonial] police force and villot outranked the police. the italian police can investigate crimes within the city, but they must be invited. i'm guessing you've figured out that no one invited them.

villot did apparently take care of a little of the clean-up himself: he took a bottle of pills that the pope had been taking to help with chronic low blood pressure. he also took the pope's glasses, slippers and the papers from his desk. why on earth would he do that? it's one of those bizarre things things that begs for a conspiracy to start. the papers are actually understandable- he didn't want people looking through the former pope's private documents. the glasses and slippers seem like they could have been ghastly souvenirs. the pills are probably the most suspicious item, because they were removed prior to the arrival of the doctor. since the doctor had no idea of the pope's medical history, it would have been difficult for him to make a diagnosis under any circumstances. removing medication used to treat low blood pressure effectively deprived the doctor of the only meaningful evidence in the room. without it, the doctor never had the chance to consider that people with chronically low blood pressure aren't prone to heart attacks.

among those who take a dark view of villot's behaviour, it has been alleged that the pope's slippers had traces of vomit on them, which might have pointed to poisoning rather than a heart attack as the cause of death. david yallop claimed that the pope was holding papers that implicated high ranking officials in the vatican in a financial scandal, whereby the vatican bank was essentially laundering money for the mafia. that is our first hint of motive and we'll see more about that shortly, but it does seem just a little convenient that the man died holding in his hands the very papers that made him a target for assassination. i'll let that one slide for now.

having cleared the apartment and had a doctor who'd never dealt with the man before diagnose a heart attack as the cause of death, villot moved quickly to have the body taken care of. he and the other cardinals refused to sanction an autopsy that would have settled the cause of death once and for all, because they said that it was forbidden to conduct an autopsy on the pope. it isn't, and at least two previous popes had had autopsies performed. if villot had been reading from a script where he was playing the villain, he could hardly have done more to attract suspicion. but so far, we can only convict him of strange behaviour.

and that brings us to the question of motive. there are a number of theories, but by far the most prominent is yallop's: that the pope was killed because he was about to drop the hammer on corrupt members of the church for their financial dealings with the mafia. in particular, an archbishop named paul marcinkus, who ran the vatican bank, may have had reasons to fear john paul i. marcinkus had close ties with some financiers linked to the mafia, including michele sindona, who ended up going to jail for twenty-five years for fraud and other crimes, and roberto calvi, chairman of the italian banco ambrosiano, who ended up hanging from a bridge in london under suspicious circumstances in 1982.

marcinkus and any other corrupt members of the vatican may have had good reason to fear john paul i. he had already unearthed a financial scandal during his time in vittorio venezia. unlike the image of the sweet, smiling figure that has been propagated after his death, he had a skill with numbers and finances and had spotted irregularities that caused him to investigate further. he may well have continued to pursue signs of corruption as pope, but perhaps more importantly, people like marcinkus knew he was inclined to do so, which may have been enough to constitute motive.

the body of "god's banker" roberto calvi
marcinkus himself was never accused of any crimes [at least not formally] and pope john paul ii promoted him to one of the most powerful posts in the vatican, even as it came out that he had lost the vatican bank close to a quarter of a billion dollars by investing in the banco ambrosiano. a reward for staving off an investigation? or simply a sign of trust for a long-serving ally of the new pope?

aside from marcinkus and villot, there were other names bandied about as possible subjects, such as archbishop cody of chicago, another corrupt figure who feared for his position under the reform-minded pope. although it's not impossible, it does seem like an extreme reaction to the threat of being replaced on the job. it's not uncommon for popes to change people in key positions and appoint those who share their vision of the church and cody wouldn't likely have been left out in the cold. still, once you've started naming suspects, you have to look at everybody.

years after the fact, a counter-narrative to explain the bizarre behaviour of the cardinals, particularly jean-marie villot, has emerged. and it's not bad. the claim was that pope john paul i had accidentally taken an overdose of his medication [or that cardinal villot believed he had], which was what killed him. therefore, villot's bizarre behaviour can be understood as an attempt to remove any evidence that might point to his death as a possible suicide. the removal of the pills, along with the [possibly vomit-stained] slippers, the hasty post mortem, the emptying and sealing of the papal apartments, all seem like they could be the actions of a man who saw a potential scandal and wanted to protect the institution to which he had given his life. after all, suicide is a mortal sin and any rumour that the head of god's church had taken his own life would be humiliating in the extreme. in fact, from villot's point of view, it would have been better to be thought a murderer than to have this sort of scandal unleashed on the church.

ironically, the rush to judgment about the cause of death may have robbed the church of a much less suspicious cause of death. in 1975, cardinal luciani had suffered an embolism in his right eye. although there had been no evidence of further problems, embolisms are easily missed, often causing no symptoms until they cause a catastrophic obstruction in the body. so while a heart attack may seem like an odd way for a man with no history of heart disease to die, there is part of his medical history that provides a possible reason for his sudden death.

the likelihood :: 3/10
the not at all threatening p2 lodge conducting a rite
always be careful of reading too much into circumstantial evidence. in this case, that's all there is. it's certainly not impossible that there was a sinister hand behind pope john paul i's sudden death and the extensive corruption within the vatican bank, as well as the body count connected with it, was very real. and yes, there were signs that the new pope and the vatican financiers could have been headed for a showdown.

the problem is that there's nothing concrete. whatever cardinal villot's motivation, his actions resulted in the compromise or destruction of all the physical evidence at the scene. thus, we are left with only a bizarre run of behaviour and theories constructed from related events.

there certainly seems to be something off about the vatican's reaction to the death of the pope, but foul play isn't the only rational explanation for that behaviour. the fear of a papal suicide scandal checks all the same boxes.

upon the publication of his book, david yallop offered to donate every cent of profit it made to a charity of the vatican's choosing if they would investigate his central claim that john paul i was found clutching a paper with a list of church leaders involved in financial corruption, as well as with freemasonry, which is illegal for anyone in the priesthood. the vatican never responded to his offer. [side note :: it's wrong of me to throw that mention of freemasonry in there and not explain its importance, but i'd like to finish this blog post before thursday. the aforementioned banker, roberto calvi, had ties to an illegal masonic lodge within the church, known as propaganda due, or simply p2. there are a lot of conspiracies relating to the p2 lodge and the death of the pope is only one of them. long story short: members of the p2 lodge were thought to be behind much of the financial corruption that was happening at the vatican. for now, we'll leave it at that.]

it's highly unlikely, given how many people involved are now dead and how secretive the vatican has always been, that we'll ever have much more factual information than we do today. in fact, the only near-certain method to verify if the pope was poisoned would be to exhume his body and test the remains for any traces. you'd be lucky if you didn't get excommunicated for even suggesting that the police should dig up the body of a former pope- that's how outrageous the idea is. but failing that, we'll be left to debate the possibilities ad nauseum, forever. 

25 September 2015

making faces :: fall for all, part 1 [a seasonal colour analysis experiment]

i hadn't done posts on seasonal colour analysis in a while, but the shift in weather this week got me thinking. i love the shift to deep, earthy fall colours, the tights, the sturdier shoes and all manner of boots, sweaters, the breathtaking visual display that is the changing of the leaves... cosmetically, of course, fall is the season most strongly associated with a specific palette: nude looks, pastels, highly saturated colours, sparkling effects and virtually everything else fight it out for the rest of the year, but fall is always about the femme fatale: smokey eyes, dark, vampy lip shades, contoured faces sometimes flushed with a perfect wind-chilled colour [the way cheeks never, ever look when exposed to actual wind], sometimes luminous with the warmth of early dusk. simply heaven for me.

but i got to thinking that extolling the wonders of the typical fall palette is a little bit hypocritical for someone who's spent a lot of time reading about and playing around with seasonal colour analysis, which holds that there are certain colours that simply work better on each person than others. it's a sad situation, because i know lots of people who look really different from one another who love the fall. [in fact, according to at least a couple of polls i saw last night, most north americans choose it as their preferred season.] so i got to thinking that their must be a way for people of all different colour analysis seasons to get in the fall spirit and that i would try to figure it out.

so this is the start of a series about how every season can wear fall, both as makeup and in clothing. these aren't carved in stone ideas, nor am i a professional in the field. i've just been playing around with this a lot and i have at least once tried to do a makeup look typical of each season [while trying to figure out which one i was], so this is like me doing the "dogma" version of those posts. now, it's cheating a little, since it's always me wearing the looks and i'm not equally at home in every season, but i only have one me to work with.

23 September 2015

world wide wednesdays :: celebration time!

ahoy there fellow fans of autumn! the season is officially upon us! if you're a lover of all things fall, as i am, today is the day when you can officially start feeling like the world is on your side. unless you live in the southern hemisphere, in which case you're only going to feel excited if spring is your favourite season, but the whole shift in seasons thing doesn't really work the same way in the southern hemisphere anyway, or at least the differences aren't quite as stark. wherever you live, though, it's equinox time!

in honour of the celestial occurrence, i thought it would be fun to look at some autumnal equinox traditions from around the world, or at least the northern half of it.

whereas the solstices represent apexes- the pinnacle of light and dark- equinoxes are points of balance. if you're an astrologer, that's reinforced at the autumnal equinox, as the zodiac shifts to the sign of libra [the scales, or in french balance]. on the day of the equinox, the hours of daylight and darkness are exactly even [or as even as you can get on a planetary scale]. celestial events of this sort are obvious and important enough that people have been noting them for thousands of years, long before they acquired religious or cultural associations.

the vernal equinox is replete with celebrations to its name, because it was obviously a happy time: the sun was coming back and if you could see it, it meant that you'd survived another winter and that there would be more food around and you could go outside again. the autumnal equinox wasn't quite such a happy occasion, since it was more a time when people were thinking about getting all their crops harvested and properly stored so that they didn't die during the winter, and it being dark most of the time was a significant impediment to doing things, rather than an invitation to flash up the lights and party.

however, there are a few autumnal equinox traditions that took hold...

"and stay out!"
michaelmas :: alternately known as the feast of saints michael, gabriel, uriel and raphael, the feast of archangels or the feast of saint michael and all the angels. [emphasis mine, but i kind of like saying it that way, like god got fed up and finally just said the day could be for everybody as long as they just shut up.] rather than being strictly tethered to the equinox, michaelmas falls every year on the 29th of september. the celebration is to honour the dedication of a church to the archangel michael on september 30th in rome some time in the fifth century. in 1752, festivities of michaelmas in britain were moved forward to october 10th [or 11th, or both, depending on your source], which is now referred to as "old michaelmas". yes, the newer date is now called "old", because at some point they switched back. there is a superstitious belief that you shouldn't eat blackberries after that date, because it was the date that lucifer was cast out of heaven [by the archangel michael]. apparently, mephistopheles' landed on a blackberry bush and cursed them. [blackberry bushes are thorny, so i can understand where the cursing would come from.] in certain areas, it gets a little more specific: if you're in yorkshire, the legend is that he spat on the blackberries. if you're in cornwall, he peed on them. i'm not sure about the superhuman powers of satan's spit or piss, but i fail to see how one dose could have spoiled all the blackberries in the world, or why they'd be fine the whole season up until the anniversary of the luciferian loogie, but gross afterward. also, i have seen where wild blackberries grow and i know that you'd be unlikely to find some that hadn't been peed on by something, which is why you wash produce before you eat it. maybe it's something you have to be catholic to understand. [side note :: roman catholic. the greek, eastern and russian orthodox churches don't do michaelmas, although the serbian orthodox church does. the greek orthodox church does have a day for the angels, but they celebrate it on november 8th, when the romans have moved on to saints and souls. you're lucky to get protestants to celebrate anything other than christmas and easter, but the michaelmas tradition is observed by lutherans and it was kept, like pretty much everything from catholicism, by the anglican church when it split from rome. there is a lot of disparity between which archangels are honoured on the day, since everyone has their own ideas about who the archangels are. anglicans and protestants have either three or four: michael, gabriel raphael and sometimes uriel, who is like the "y" of archangels. going by the book- literally- the only archangel in the bible is michael.]

mabon :: currently a holiday in the pagan/ wiccan calendar, there is some historical precedent for a harvest festival that coincided with the equinox. it was also sort of a practical festival, when accounts would be settled, e.g., field workers being paid for the harvest, landlords being paid for quarterly rent, etc. it's the second of the pagan harvest festivals, falling between lammas/ lughnasadh at the beginning of august and samhain at the end of october. certain pagan groups consider it a lesser holiday [alongside the vernal equinox and the two solstices], as opposed to the greater holidays at the beginning of february, may, august and november [well, end of october]. given the longstanding importance of celestial shifts in the position of the earth relative to the sun, it seems pretty likely that the solstice traditions are older than the christian ones. which would make michaelmas one of many christian days that got made up in order to ease the transition from paganism to christianity. "you celebrate around the last week in september? that's so amazing, because we have a celebration at exactly the same time! so you could be a christian and you'd get to keep that holiday, as long as you gave some money to the church at the same time!"

moon festival :: the exact timing of this is a little harder to reckon for westerners, because it works on the lunar calendar, but the easiest way to figure it out is that it falls on the full moon following the equinox. this year, it'll happen on sunday, september 27th. the moon festival is observed in china and vietnam and a similar festival is observed in korea. officially, it commemorates the flight of the goddess chang'e to the moon, where she lives and sometimes dances. unofficially, it is a time for families to come together, to share seasonal treats like moon cakes [which are delicious no matter where you're from], sing songs or read moon-inspired poetry and to watch the rising of the full moon together. it's also considered a promising season for romance, even for lovers who are separated, because they can watch the ascent of the moon and know that they are experiencing it together. [side note :: this year's full moon is going to be pretty epic. in a rare conjunction of events, the full moon coincides with the perigee of the moon, or the point at which it comes closest to the earth. this combination will mean that there are likely to be record high tides, particularly in the bay of fundy, between new brunswick and nova scotia, which already sees the highest tides in the world. and if that's not enough, we're also in for a total lunar eclipse the same night.]

back to school :: sure, it happened weeks ago, but have you ever wondered why you go back to school in september? it's because school terms originally started at the equinox, after the children had helped out with the farm all summer. in other words, summer "vacation" used to suck.

hutash :: the chumash people of southern california [although the people predate the state by more than ten thousand years] observe a holiday to celebrate the harvest, named in honour of their earth goddess figure. it's also a time when members of the tribe come together and give small gifts to their chiefs, to symbolise the renewal of social and political relations.

even if you're not a religious or spiritual person, there's no getting around the significance of this shift. it's going to be darker, and cooler. the leaves are going to change and fall and after that, depending on where you live, you might be living under a blanket of snow for several months. today marks a perfect balance everywhere in the world between light and dark and we're as close as we can get to another celestial body. those are big things, fully science and magic, that are happening and i can't think of a better reason to pause for a moment and get out of the day to day headspace. so celebrate in whatever way suits you best. 

22 September 2015

spook house [revisited]

this is a weird little tale that couldn't decide if it wanted to be a short story or a poem and finally figured that it wanted to be a bit of both. it was originally published in paraphilia magazine and it won a contest from the magazine 69 flavours of paranoia. i haven't done anything quite like it before or since, although i wish i could. the inspiration was, as it often is, a dream that i had. i hope that you enjoy it!


It is then that the great house starts to move, rattling forward, a body stricken with delirium tremens,
pockets of dust shaken loose as our anchors are raised and we experience the thrill of momentum building,
slow a while and then picking up a little speed, picking itself up, floating like a spirit above the road.
The old haunted house with its leprechaun of a host, his costume folded around him, leaves of a head of lettuce turning brown.

"Welcome aboard one and all," he cries.
"Take care to stay well back
From the edge and keep a lookout
For as it flies
The house plays games
with weary eyes."

We've not been here in years, have we? Have we been here then at all? Us together, as we are now?
I would swear we have, watching the same astounded faces on other people asking how the house knows where to go.
It does seem I have heard those voices, their uneasy murmurs betraying that underlying fear
that this is no trick at all, that the place is really bewitched. No festival ride could be so real, could fool all senses
to believing that it hovered, that it shuddered along a path that held no real design, nothing could feel like that
and not be singed with evil. And so they whisper furtively, their fear ripening above the rows of sagging seats
that have seen too many like them.

I know I have been here, because I know how everything will unfold. I know that the woman in the brown jacket
will fold herself inside her husband's arm for the first time in many months and that he will hold her with the perplexed
face of one who has not felt compelled to act this role in many months. The ride affects each one differently, but I
can guess them all. In the absence of memory, this knowing is a sort of psychic's trick. I should be back in the tent
with Madame Zolta, telling the crowds the small gestures that will form the foundation of their future.

"You have no plans to marry
You say
And indeed it is a bachelor
You will stay
And die a young man"

That boy asked his girlfriend to marry him on the way out of the tent, I believe; she turned him down and left him
to the wild of life and he died three weeks hence, besotted, falling under the wheels of a train. It matters not
to Madame Zolta, who tells a bald businessman in a trench-coat that his son is not his own and laughs when he thinks
she speaks in metaphor. I like to think she got her powers riding on the roof of the haunted house as I do, remarking
how things are ever the same and learning that all shall pass here again, without remembering. I like to think that
we are alike, her and I. She probably knows and finds it funny, that I would envy her her little power and her place
among the scamps and oddities whose peripatetic lives we cross through, looking for entertainment.

Now and again it shakes, this ancient house, as it sails forward into the darkening sky, carbon over steel,
limp fingers of gelled rain slapping at our faces, loosening the dirt on our untended vessel; and with each shudder
growing in intensity, the voice of the house rising to a miner's cough, we sense the real magic is about to start.

"For God's sake hush!"
Our ugly guide insists.
"You'll babble without pause
and miss
the main event."

The main event is subtle, lost on no one here, begins with the unfurling of the sails that catch the wind
that bear us up further into the twilight, so that the ground below begins to come into focus,
visible underneath our eyes, the circus and its tribes arranged for us to see.
There is the strong man, who whispered words I never heard but that I knew to be a threat;
His thin voice, a eunuch's voice, is with me in my ears and in my stomach, the part that freezes
every time I think of him. Nearby the bearded lady eats messily and cries that no man,
not even the dwarves who hustle customers from one attraction to the next, will look at her
with glossy-eyed lust, the way they do each night at the dough-headed acrobats.
Madame Zolta's tent has a tail, a curled queue of people waiting to speak to her,
people who must know what they are hurtling towards, without knowing it is already done.
At the fringe of the grounds, ostracised by even his peers, the man who swallows pain
crucified for the aghast few, he smells of lead and chrysanthemums and speaks in croaks and clucks
unintelligible to all, save the lion tamer, who placates him with the occasional glass of whiskey.

"Less mwa moorie
Juh tonn pree
Juh vuh la moorie
A-layt, a-layt, a-layt"

The phantom who brought us here is among the guests by now, stirring unrest
talking blackly about our motives and our neighbours, he makes the plump woman in the windbreaker
sob and ask why, just why, without any further clarification. Her befuddled husband shrugs and laughs;
her children turn their backs to her in abject horror. She is heavy on them, her graceless blubbering
lashes them in and holds them as the world peels back its skin for them to see from the shore of safety.
They do not sense the phantom yet. Against children he is useless, being rumour. They'll be back, of course
unable to resist the house and its mysteries and unable to think them away. I know that I came back
drawn by that anti-figure, always trying to pin his drifting shadow to my shores. I know that I came back
but know not how, or why I keep finding myself here.

And then he unleashes the power of the house, the fragments of those still trapped inside, still clinging to the walls
and wondering why they find neither sleep nor adventure, hung on the  moldering furniture, shaken loose
like so much plaster dust. We feel them move among us, both groups picking goose flesh from each other's skin.
Who are they and why do they stay here? Who are they and why do they come here? And neither of us moves on.
The apparition raises his hands and the others scramble, tiny monkey spirits and form a spinning wheel. In turn,
each leaves the round and jumps through the centre, then rejoins his brethren as if nothing has happened.
The clever tricks continue, the breathtaking leaps, strange passages, the wordless commands,
always so clearly understood. And we clap, we clap until our ears ache with it, we clap again and we ask more.

I still want to hold him down, force out his secrets, get him to tell me how he makes them dance and
why it is that others cannot. I want to wrap myself in that misty embrace and hear that I can learn
that they will follow me and he will teach me all that is hidden in him. I have been here before and yet
I still hope that of all the arranged bodies, some soft and aging, some like summer fruit: perfect, firm and ripe,
I still dream that it will be me he chooses to lift into that afterlife, that he will see the shards of himself in me
and take interest or pity, it is all the same in the end. But tonight he chooses no one, for he never does;
only ushers the little ghosts back to their lair and nods good night to us all, his way of giving perfunctory thanks.

And wordlessly we drift back, hardly speaking or hearing until the metal sound and weight of the anchor
is on us, dragging us back to ground as if nothing had happened, as if it were as ordinary as cotton,
the fabric that links the elements of this house. And wordlessly we descend the creaking back staircase,
always in want of repair, never growing worse or better, room for one by one by one to pass, no more.

"Good night, ladies
Good night, gentlemen
We'll see you back here
in Hell or in Heaven
Good night."

The host salutes by taking off his cap, by slapping the ticket-taker and the anchor-man
until they do the same, until they bow their hulking granite heads toward us, not in deference
but in fear. And thus do I pass, full of this place again, I have been here before, I don't know when.
My eyes are closed for that last step and I imagine him approaching, coming down on me
like a raptor, ending what I know.

When my eyes open, I realise I have forgotten. I always think you will be with me.

21 September 2015

mental health mondays :: well it was working before

we've talked a lot about drugs here on mhm, but we haven't paid a lot of attention to the different types of therapy that are available for people with mental disorders. that's a hell of an oversight on my part, because, as most experts in the field will tell you, it's the therapy that's more important. drugs control the symptoms, but they aren't doing anything [as far as science has been able to uncover] to improve the underlying condition. psychotherapy is like physiotherapy for the brain: it doesn't undo the damage, but it teaches you how to function in spite of it in such a way that you won't cause additional damage.

one of the most popular forms of therapy in the last forty or so years- popular with both doctors and patients- has been cognitive behavioural therapy. it's easy to see the appeal of it, because it's short-term, goal oriented and something that, once the therapy sessions have ended, you can continue to practice yourself. it's not just an interaction with an expert, but a way of retraining your brain. there is an in-depth description of the process that you can read right here, but the short version is that it represents a significant departure from the open, discussion-based approach of classical psychoanalysis and places both the onus to improve and the power to effect improvement on the patient, with the therapist playing the role of a coach.

when the practice first became popular in the 70s, it was a revolution. by the 80s and 90s, people were already mocking it [remember the "baby steps" mantra from what about bob? or the emphasis on finding one's "happy place" [a trigger for a state where one can ignore the chaos of the surrounding world and focus on what one's brain is doing], like in the simpsons episode where edna krabappel tries to overcome stress by repeating "calm blue ocean". the mocking, however, was lighthearted, because it was clear that people who were engaged in cognitive behavioural therapy were seeing real benefits, even if the "homework" did seem a little silly at times.

but a recent study- actually an analysis of a number of studies- casts some doubt on whether it continues to be a cure for the disordered brain. after reviewing forty years worth of evidence on its effects, the researchers have come to an inevitable conclusion: cbt's ability to cure people of unipolar depression [the studies were specifically related to this, although cbt is recommended for a wide variety of conditions] has been falling steadily the entire time. its greatest results came when it was first studied in the mid-to-late seventies and everything else has gone downhill. so what's going on?

the paper hints that there may be a sort of placebo effect at work, where people assumed that it was helping more than it actually was because it was just so different and because some progress could be measured. likewise, once word started to get around that this was a sort of miracle cure for brain bugs, the expectations rose as to what it was going to accomplish, expectations that couldn't be fulfilled. that would explain the initial drop, but not the continued decline. at some point, the treatment was no longer novel and expectations were no longer too high, at which point the rate of effectiveness should have stabilised. and yet it continues to go down.

an article about the study in the guardian raises an interesting possibility: that it's not about individuals and their reactions to a particular type of therapy, but rather about shifts in culture as a whole requiring new types of therapy every so often. in the same way that freudian analysis fell by the wayside, so to cognitive behavioural therapy has run its course. it isn't that cbt is bad therapy, it's that it's served its purpose and it's time for a new model. [it also mentions the very obvious possibility that there are just more therapists who are under-qualified, which is something that shouldn't be discounted.]

this isn't like with medication, where, as scientists get to know more about the chemistry of the brain, they're better able to target drugs to promote or suppress certain reactions. finding forms of therapy that work better than others is based on observation and intuition. the results are still measurable, but it's a lot more haphazard and takes a lot of work to refine. that said, once a good system is established, it follows that it should continue to be useful over time. we can't build up an immunity to therapy, can we? well, not in theory, but that's exactly what seems to be happening. more intriguing, it's happening on a societal rather than an individual level. the cbt process isn't just becoming less effective on individual patients, but on everybody.

the implications of that are worthy of study themselves. it's like we, as a society, react to psychotherapy in the same way a teenager [or an adult, who am i kidding] reacts to a new video game. at first, it's interesting and makes you want to push further, then it's all you can talk about, but then you figure out what's happening and it no longer has its magic. it's possible that, as more and more information has been revealed, cbt seems too "easy" to be a solution to what we perceive as complex problems.

the results of this study shouldn't be cause for immediate alarm. cognitive behavioural therapy continues to help people fight their psychological demons, identify the ways in which they compromise and harm themselves, and empowers them to take control over their lives. no one is trying to assert that their progress isn't real. but it does raise the question of what form new therapies need to take. we've gone from the value of talk to the value of goals and action, so what's the next step in the ladder? [you didn't think that i was going to answer that, did you?]

18 September 2015

inside the seamy valley sweat box

five freakin' hours. that's how long i was watching the republicans last night. it's like watching a marathon of a guilty pleasure trash reality show, which i don't really have because i watch things like the republican national debates in five hour increments.

since cnn were "kind" enough to broadcast both the opening act and the main event, i figured the only way to make sure that i was as offended and disgusted as i could possibly be was by committing to the entire thing. i'm not sure why i thought that was a good plan, but it's too late to be analyzing now.

reflecting on my night of american right wingnuttery, i have many thoughts. many terrible thoughts. the first, of course, is that one of the people i saw last night could get elected and become leader of the most the most powerful army the world has ever known. but there are a few other things that come to mind:

  • dividing the candidates by popularity is stupid. if you're blocking off five hours of air time anyway, do two debates of two hours each with the same questions asked and candidates should be assigned randomly to one or the other. any of the guys on the first stage could easily have held their own with the so-called big guns. making the division according to polls ensures that most of those on the "kiddie stage" won't be able to move up, unless they happen to come up with some soundbite fodder and have a p.r. genius spinning their performance. 
  • candidates need to be questioned on the content of their platform, not just on comments they've made to the media. all of these people have developed plans for what they'd do and while some of them spring up to mention them on their own, but those plans are the blueprint for the kind of presidency they would have and most voters aren't going to have the time to read through all of them in detail. debates are supposed to offer a type of public service and allow voters to compare and contrast the candidates. that should be based on their ideas, not their past media appearances. 
  • which leads into my third point, which is that the moderation of the debates was worse than the candidates, and that shouldn't even be possible. the first debate began twenty minutes late and much of the build up centred on a discussion of whether or not nancy reagan was in the building [she wasn't, although cnn's cameras tracked a woman they identified as her for some time] and whether or not donald trump had arrived. the first fifteen minutes of the debate were dedicated exclusively to questions about donald trump, who wasn't on the daïs. the candidates politely tried to turn the conversation to themselves and their ideas, but moderator jake tapper was having none of it. but that was only a quibble compared to the atrocity of the second debate. nearly the entirety of its three hours was made up of questions framed in exactly this way: candidate x called said you were ratchet- are you gonna take that or what? on twitter, i saw several people referring to it as the mean girls school of debate. it was like the producers wanted to outdo trump in how crass they could make the forum. i was a little disappointed that no one pulled a newt gingrich and called bullshit on the questions. if that's the only way that you can think of to get candidates to interact, you need to find some new people to do your thinking. large portions of the debate were so out of control that you wondered if tapper had gone to take a leak. the crowning glory however, was seeing the only question on women's rights [leaving aside the usual clamour to vilify planned parenthood, which was a discussion of the deeply misleading videos rather than anything meaningful] described as a "light-hearted" one. women's issues are frivolous. thank you cnn for clarifying this. i miss candy crowley. fuck, i miss megyn kelly. 

as to the candidates themselves, starting with the warm-up acts. [and fyi, whoever decided to arrange them by height, way to go. i spent the entire time thinking i was looking at a demonic set of russian nesting dolls.]

george pataki :: you sounded rational, conciliatory and experienced. i expect this is the last time we'll see you on stage.

rick santorum :: you said that iran was an apocalyptic cult who were dead set on bringing about the end of the world. you also implied pretty heavily that you favoured a theocracy, where the laws of god [your god] supercede the laws of man. and i'll bet you don't appreciate the irony.

bobby jindal :: consider what i just said about rick santorum when i tell you this: you really brought the crazy to the debate. you said you would defend the idea of america. i'm guessing that if you get elected, that'll be all that's left. kudos, though, because i'm pretty sure that your two mentions of bernie sanders doubles the coverage he's received from cnn.

lindsey graham :: you want to bomb everyone and everything while you toss back a few shots of bourbon. i have very conflicted feelings about you.

winner :: honestly, the match was fairly even, but i think that lindsey graham edged out the others. his militaristic crazy was outdone by santorum's religious crazy and jindal's... well, by jindal. the line about drinking more was legitimately hilarious and he deftly blew away questions about his past praise for democrats [including hillary clinton] by using it as evidence that he could work with both parties and get congress moving again. tore a strip off those who would be willing to risk another government shutdown like a boss.

prediction :: not one of these guys will make it as far as the iowa caucus.

and then it was time for the big guns...

rand paul :: i don't think the post-debate media gave you enough credit. considering that you're you, you did ok. questions on foreign policy and drug policy are right in your wheelhouse and made you look like you think about things a little differently than your peers. i'm not sure that people in your party like different, unfortunately.

mike huckabee :: you even whiffed the kim davis bits and that's your issue. you are so doomed.

marco rubio :: i thought you were one of the winners last time, but the polls tell me i was wrong. nonetheless, i sticking with my original line of thought: you had a pretty good showing; a little weak in the earlier bits, but you kept picking up steam as the torture night wore on. and making a tasteless joke about california's disastrous drought isn't going to hurt you with the party base anyway.

ted cruz :: meh. if you're just going to be another boring hypocritical right winger, you're spoiling all our fun. it hurts me to my soul that you crushed the "frivolous" question about what woman you'd put on american currency. seriously, you not only chose rosa parks but you also said that you'd make it the $20 bill and not the $10, so that she'd be replacing a pretty despicable racist to boot. and as i'm saying without irony that you were the top guy on the sole women's question of the night, i realise how much trouble america is in.

ben carson :: there's soft-spoken and there's medicated. whoever told you to down those ambien with a few shots of wild turkey is not your friend. i think you're getting pushed back out to the edge of the stage next time around.

donald trump :: unfortunately, even questions as soft as the ones last night make it clear how vacuous you are on any issues. the only time when you sounded like you knew what you were talking about was when you were going back and forth with carly fiorina about business experience. it takes some serious effort to seem like the least informed person in this group, but you succeeded. slow clap. but what really struck me? you looked bored out of your mind. this little publicity stunt isn't nearly as fun for you anymore, is it?

jeb bush :: when you said that your brother kept america safe, there were more mentions of september 11th on twitter than there were a few days earlier on september 11. i know everyone's saying that you did well because you joked about smoking pot and it made you look human, but i just don't see that getting you where you need to go.

scott walker :: you continue to make us all wonder why people were hyping you as a strong candidate.

carly fiorina :: as far as i can tell, everything that came out of your mouth last night was complete bullshit, but damn if you didn't pull it off with style. while the boys were playing in the mud, you spooled off "facticles" that made you look like the only student who'd done her homework [even if she'd done it wrong]. your moment with trump was perfect. even your body language was perfect. 100% style over substance, but i wasn't expecting much substance anyway.

john kasich :: you should really bring back first debate john kasich, because he was way better. every time you opened your mouth, i felt like all the oxygen was getting sucked out of the room. personally, i thought your answer about why you weren't attacking hillary clinton was effective and classy, but i heard republican strategists afterward call it "bizarre", so i'm guessing my thumbs' up isn't much consolation. my choice for "man most likely to be demoted to the kids table" at the next debate.

chris christie :: first, i want to thank you for putting an end to that interminable debate between trump and fiorina about business experience. in theory, the moderator should be doing that sort of thing, but you saw what had to be done and you stepped up. i have a feeling that doesn't happen too often. and this was a decent night for you all around, as long as you weren't trying to sway any independent voters your way. you've got the far right talk down and you've recovered some of the swagger that made everyone wish you were their candidate last time.

winner :: fiorina, hands down. i suspect, however, that this may prove a bit of an albatross for her. as journos were quick to point out in the wake of her excellent performance that she gets a lot of stuff really wrong and now that she's about to see a bounce in the polls, people are going to start calling her on it. same thing goes for her business record. trump landed some punches [not literally] last night and those are only going to get harder the more prominent she becomes.

prediction :: fiorina will get a bump, quite likely a substantial one, in the polls. to a lesser extent christie, rubio and jeb [although i don't get it personally] will also get more in the game. trump didn't exactly bomb, but he wasn't his attention-grabbing self, either. i suspect he's working on his exit strategy. i could never really make sense of ben carson's run up the polls anyway, but my guess is he's going right back down. kasich's brief flicker of life after the first debate is pretty much gone, and i expect him to go with it. huckabee and cruz are fighting for the same evangelical vote and if one of them doesn't blink soon, they'll both fall by the wayside as well.

so that's it for the round up of this debate. i'm nearly certain that watching five hours of republicans talking caused some permanent brain damage, but as the head of more like space enterprises, i am dedicated to bringing you the complete and sarcastic coverage you deserve throughout this election season. and yes, i will eventually have something to say about the canadian election as well. [if you follow me on twitter, of course, you've already heard  me say quite enough.]

for now, i bid you adieu and wish you sweet dreams, as difficult as it may be in light of this topic.

fyi, you can get that spiffy cup pictured at the top of this post [no, it is not a rubbish bin, as i originally thought] as party of a debate party pack right here

15 September 2015

mental health mondays :: when drugs go retro

the new hotness?
one of the most common complaints about antidepressants is that they take so long to work. adjusting the taps in the bubble bath of your brain is something that takes several weeks- usually around four, but up to eight is not uncommon- during which time you might well be left feeling just as horrible as you were before, but with the added bonus of side effects: lethargy, somnolence and insomnia, nervousness, sweating, farting, nausea... what a time to be alive. in cases where the danger is acute to the patient or to others [those around the patient], doctors generally deal with this by sedating the sufferer within an inch of their life, so that they're much too calm to think about hurting anyone and so that reaching for the razor blade to slice your wrists is just way more effort than you're willing to put into anything.

our friends at science, however, appear to have found something that might address this. that's right, science has discovered a drug- something so new that they're not even willing to give it a name- that appears to fight depression in rats within twenty-four hours. my first reaction upon hearing that was that it was great news, even more so since it apparently achieves this miracle without creating a lot of side effects that are going to make you want to stop taking the drug, which is the problem with a lot of psychiatric medications to begin with. [that's not quite true. my first reaction was to feel sorry for all the depressed rats and to think about what a shitty, shitty job it must be to have to make them depressed in the first place. i'm picturing some forlorn phd student reading shopenhauer and holding the little wheel so that it will not budge, no matter how hard the rats try to run on it.]

but before we start to get all excited, i have a few questions. actually, i have a lot of questions, and none of them are getting answered because the drug is in such an early phase that the manufacturer isn't even telling us anything meaningful about it, since that would allow their competitors to develop something similar. for the moment, all they're willing to share is that, unlike "traditional" medications for depression that work by adjusting levels of serotonin in the brain, this drug works on a completely different neurotransmitter: gaba.

that sounds awesome, but what the manufacturer [and everyone who published what looks like the company's press release with minimal adjustments] doesn't mention is that there are literally dozens of drugs that manipulate gaba already on the market and that many of them are older than the serotonin reuptake inhibitors that this new drug would supposedly be replacing. barbiturates work on gaba. so do benzodiazepines. for that matter, substances that affect gaba are found in certain species of mushrooms [ibotenic acid], common plants [skullcap] and seawater [bromide]. so saying that the drug works by targeting gaba rather than serotonin says absolutely nothing about what makes it new, different, or more effective.

because gaba-modulators are so widespread in pharmacology and the world, it's difficult to generalise about them. if we look at the one category that's generally used for mental health applications- the benzos- then it's worth noting that they're both fast and effective already and while they do have some side effects, the real problem is that they're addictive and can be harsh on your liver. those are really the important things that need to be tested before this gets anywhere near your mouth and stomach.

so yes, this looks like it could be promising. but it also looks like it could be the start of an insidious marketing campaign to get people excited about the properties of a new drug that might just be a new twist on something we've had access to for a long time...

14 September 2015

paranoid theory of the week :: was the saudi royal family behind the 9/11 attacks?

the ghosts of 9/11
i had thought about doing a compendium of 9/11 conspiracies in honour of friday's anniversary, but then i got under way and realised the enormity of the task i had assigned myself. as you may have guessed, that's why we're a little late with this post. [which may in turn, push mental health mondays to tuesday, but we shall see...]

given that this is [i believe] the longest paranoid theory of the week yet, i think you'll agree that sticking to one theory was the way to go. i haven't come close to investigating everything related to this story and even then, i've had to narrow my focus to a few key areas, because there could be [and have been] books written on the subject of saudi involvement with the terrorists of september 11.

if proven true, it's hard to overestimate the effect it could have on international relations for the foreseeable future.

if proven false, the theory smacks of xenophobia and racism: that we are inherently suspicious of powerful strangers with dark skin.

with that in mind, let's delve into the story...

the theory :: 
the government of saudi arabia were in contact with and gave support, financial and otherwise, to the twenty hijackers responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and were aware enough of their motives and plans to be considered conspirators.

the origin :: 
possibly with the neighbours of a wealthy advisor to a prominent member of the saudi royal family. his daughter and son-in-law were staying in his home inside a gated community, but in late august, the family bolted as if they'd been fleeing a natural disaster. they left almost everything except the clothes on their back, including, allegedly, a refrigerator full of food. while they certainly had the money to replace anything they needed, this does seem like strange behaviour if their voyage [back to saudi arabia] was planned. others who lived in the community found the timing suspicious and told the fbi so.

there are others who were suspicious about saudi involvement, but this is about the earliest example of someone connecting a concrete action to that theory.

sen. bob graham
the believers ::
me? in the interests of full disclosure, i was discussing the events with a couple of friends a few days after the attacks and we were all trying to make sense of the tremendous amount of information, as well as the already-growing conspiracy theories that had arisen. at the time, i said that i wasn't inclined to believe those theories [primarily that it had been an "inside job", which is a subject for a whole other post], but that it wouldn't surprise me if middle eastern governments like that of saudi arabia had had some involvement. i wasn't basing that on evidence, because at the time, there was extremely little evidence that had been processed. all i meant was that, if there had been a conspiracy outside of al qaeda, that i would look to the saudis rather than the americans. the saudi government needs american money, but the relationship between the countries is best described as civil and occasionally cordial on those odd occasions when their foreign policy aims align [as they did when iraq invaded kuwait in 1990.] america is not well-loved in that area of the world. but america was still far less of a problem than al qaeda, whose chief targets had been the oil oligarchs and their political muscle up to that point. countries of the arabian peninsula had had a much more directly combative relationship with the terrorist group in the years leading up to the world trade centre attacks. furthermore, those governments stood to benefit greatly from anything that increased the price of oil. looking at that, i thought that it was just possible that the saudis, or other governments and royal houses in the region, would have seem some benefit in having their disliked ally take on their hated enemy, while generating greater wealth for themselves and their nations. i won't go so far as to say i firmly believed or promoted this point of view, all i thought was that i could see the line of logic behind it [and that that line was straighter than the others i was hearing]. i thought it was important to bring this up because, while i always try to be balanced in my presentation, there is the possibility that i'm a little biased toward this particular conspiracy and that that bias has affected this post without me meaning it to.

but there are way more important people than me who believe there's something to this story. for starters. the families of 9/11 victims fought [successfully] to have the saudi government named as a plaintiff in their civil suit to collect damages from responsible parties. former senator bob graham, who chaired the congressional inquiry into 9/11, maintains that the fbi has "covered" for the saudis by hiding evidence of a support cell for the terrorists operating out of florida. graham, a democrat, has joined forces with a group of current and former members of congress to push for the declassification of 28 pages of the investigation into intelligence activities before and after 9/11. that group includes republican senator and current presidential candidate rand paul. paul went so far as to introduce a bill [co-sponsored by democrats ron wyden and kirsten gillibrand] that would compel the administration to release the infamously redacted pages in june of this year. president bush's [43] former deputy director of homeland security, richard falkenrath felt that the original 9/11 commission report glossed over financial support for al-qaeda from saudi arabia and intelligence support from pakistan.

there is a more interesting name i could add to that list, but whether he's an actual believer, or a man looking for attention is something that we'll address in the "evidence" section.

the bad guys ::
the saudi royal family and, at least after the fact, the fbi.

the evidence ::
two things first caused official and amateur investigators to start sniffing around the saudis for links to the 9/11 attacks:

first, 19 of the 20 hijackers were from saudi arabia. two were already on terrorist watchlists. and yet, none of these men seemed to have any trouble coming to and moving around the united states. some supposedly received some assistance from the saudi embassy after they arrived in america. [assistance from an embassy, of course, is not at all suspicious, but if the people in question were already suspected of having terrorist ties, it makes that offer of assistance extremely suspicious.]

second, there is osama bin laden. he was saudi himself, born and raised in riyadh, a son of an extremely wealthy and well-connected family. he inherited a personal fortune of between $25 and $30 million from his father's multi-billion dollar construction industry and while the family claimed to have cut ties with him after he turned to terrorism, there has always been suspicion that the ties weren't cut quite as neatly as the family alleged. [one popular example was a photo of osama at a family wedding some time after his supposed ostracization.] there is ample evidence that, pre-ostracization, bin laden received plenty of financial support from the saudi government for his mujahadeen activities in afghanistan. but the americans were passing money to his group as well, and even asked the saudis to help them do it.

neither of those things constitutes evidence, not even circumstantial evidence, but they certainly provide grounds for asking some questions about potential involvement from someone in saudi arabia.

and that brings us to the gated community in florida and the sudden departure of the couple in one of its homes.

the fbi considered the news interesting enough that they opened an investigation into the couple, abdulaziz and anoud al-hajiji, their extended family and friends, on september 19, 2001. it remained open for several years, coordinated from the fbi field office in tampa, but in concert with other offices around the country. there are rumours that abdulaziz al-hajiji and his father-in-law esam ghazzawi were on a watch list even prior to the september 11 attacks, claims which the family vociferously denies. the fbi says that their investigation unearthed nothing untoward about the movements of the al-hajiji family and, more importantly, no ties to any terrorist groups or to the individuals involved in the 9/11 attacks.

what's peculiar, however, is that they appear never to have advised either congress or the 9/11 commission [who issued their final report in 2004] that they had looked into the al-hajijis. in the interests of thoroughness, it seems that a multi-year investigation warranted at least a heads up, so that it could be noted in the report and show that due diligence was done.

flash forward to 2014 and the government mandated the 9/11 review commission, tasked specifically with evaluating evidence unavailable to the original commission and documenting any progress made in the investigation since that time. their report, issued in march of this year, does mention the fbi's work on the al-hajijis, but does absolutely nothing to disspel the rumours about their findings. instead, the review panel notes that there was a field report by a special agent alleging that there were numerous connections between the al-hajijis, the ghazzawis and the 9/11 hijackers. the fbi told the review panel that that the report was poorly written and that, when questioned, the agent who wrote it was unable to provide credible substantiation for what it said. there's just one problem: no one on the review panel ever saw the report in question and they never interviewed the agent who wrote it.

this is the sort of thing that drives conspiracy-boosters into fits. it's perfectly possible that the report was nothing more than a cobbling together of gossip from neighbours and the internet written by an agent hoping to make a name for himself by discovering something salacious. perhaps he was trying to boost a theory of his own. but when the review panel doesn't even bother to look at what happened, or to question the fbi's official version... well, that's where people start to get suspicious.

plus, of course, there's the 28 pages of the investigation into intelligence community activity. in their current classified state, they are evidence of nothing. the reason given for redacting them is that they contain crucial information about how intelligence was acquired that could put ongoing and future intelligence work in jeopardy. that's not an unreasonable explanation. if you've been passing money to a certain family for years and been getting good information from a variety of them, on a number of security issues, that's not something you want made public. your sources are potentially endangered and you lose them all for good, plus you've tipped everyone off to your methods. [that's an entirely theoretical comment, by the way, and i'm in no way claiming that that's what's hidden in those pages.]

zacarias moussaoui
but given that the pages relate specifically to the financing of the terror attacks [per joint committee staff director eleanor hill, to foreign sources of financing, specifically], it is tempting to think that these pages are kept classified in order to protect extremely powerful interests.

the highest profile claims that the saudi government was involved in the attacks, however, comes from someone with no connection whatsoever to the fbi: zacarias moussaoui. this was that possible believer i mentioned a couple of sections back. earlier this year, the so-called 20th hijacker made news when he testified at the civil suit that, in his capacity as osama bin laden's donor base data entry clerk, he had recorded financial gifts from many prominent saudis, including members of the royal family.

now that, my friends is some serious insider confirmation. except that it isn't, exactly.

for starters, moussaoui is diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. that doesn't mean that he's incapable of telling the truth, but it does mean that his memory of what's true [and this is work he did in the 1990s] and what isn't is more vulnerable than most to mistakes. indeed, the saudi embassy dismissed him as a "deranged criminal" and noted that the conditions of his deposition meant that he never faced cross-examination.

but even leaving aside the question of his mental disorder [or the idea that he might just be lying because he doesn't like america and thinks it would be funny to set them and the saudis at each other's throats], there are reasons why his statements need to be treated with caution. first of all, the man has lied in the past, and concocted a story about how he was supposed to fly a plane into the white house on 9/11, which experts agree was a load of hooey. in criminal trials, the testimony of co-conspirators is considered so tainted that you aren't even allowed to use it if every salient detail can't be substantiated by another person not involved in the crime. this isn't a smoking gun, or maybe a gun at all. but it is something that warrants a closer look.

more interesting as  a witness, albeit only for providing more circumstantial evidence, is a man called mohammed al-khilewi, a former employee of the saudi government at the united nations who defected to the united states with a large number of documents he claimed linked the saudi government to all sorts corruption, bribery, human rights abuses and, yes, terrorism. khilwei's flight was apparently in response to having his life threatened after he wrote to crown prince abdullah on the importance of welcoming democratic reforms that included some pretty harsh criticism of the prince's father king faud. he said that he had personally witnessed a man with a saudi diplomatic passport [possibly osama bin laden's brother-in-law] give money to the ramzi youssef, the man behind the first world trade centre bombing in 1993. the american government agreed to protect him [he still lives under an assumed name in the new york area], but declined to look at the 14,000 diplomatic papers he'd brought.

pres. george w. bush and saudi crown prince abdullah
more recently, the aforementioned bob graham and former senator and presidential candidate bob kerrey have given sworn testimony [related to the families' civil suit] that their access to classified information has convinced them that there is a direct link between at least some of the 9/11 terrorists and the government of saudi arabia. neither graham nor kerrey have much to gain from such actions. neither is involved in politics any more and neither is likely to return to it, which makes their testimony seem pretty unassailable. it is, of course, totally unassailable, because even if they were allowed to be cross-examined, they couldn't be questioned on the contents of top secret documents.

to place all of this in context, the original 9/11 commission report exonerated saudi arabia and said there was no credible evidence that there was any link between any prominent saudi and the 9/11 attacks. [the report also exonerated iraq, for all it matters now.] the fbi investigated the al-hajijis and cleared them. outside of its 28 redacted pages, the review panel's report states that it found no ties between the saudis and the terror attacks. that's not going to convince any believers in the saudi conspiracy, but it's still a lot of people saying "no". the most you can say is that the recently published cia report on intelligence community activities used somewhat squirrely language to say that there was no evidence of saudi involvement. but it's a cia document. the whole damn thing sounds squirrely.

one of the most interesting pieces in the saudi-9/11 puzzle is a three-word statement from adel al-jubeir, a spokesman for crown prince abdullah, discussing the saudis' own internal investigation into possible arabian links to 9/11. he said that the inquiry had produced evidence of "wrongdoing by some". that's all we know, because no one ever asked for clarification on the comment.

the 9/11 memorial, new york city
the likelihood :: 7/10
it's far from proven, but damn there's a lot of smoke around if there's no fire. i'd originally been going to rank this as a little less likely, because i couldn't find any piece of evidence that compelled me to believe that there was a connection. every individual story i found is questionable. but then it occurred to me that the most important issue wasn't that there was one damning piece of evidence, but that there were just so many curious pieces just lying around. for instance, the claims of zacarias moussaoui on their own might be dubious, but they're backed in principle by those of mohammed al-khilewi, as well as by the testimony of former senators graham and kerry. the dismissal of the field report about the al-hajijis may have been well-founded, but it ties into a narrative of turning a blind eye to saudi activity, which is one of the criticisms leveled by richard falkenrath.

while it might not settle anything beyond question, it seems clear that the administration needs to acquiesce to the demands and release the infamous redacted pages from its intelligence report. politicians- republican and democrat- who've seen the pages say that the vast majority of the text could be published without threatening any intelligence operations. [although some of them have cautioned that this doesn't mean they won't be inflammatory.] and in their fight to finally have access to the complete report, they have an unlikely ally: the saudi government.

that's right. the nation deemed most likely to be damned by the missing info is also calling for its release, because they believe it will exonerate them. but if that's the case, and if it's also the case that there is some pretty harsh truth to be found in those missing pages... well that's a mystery we'll have to deal with at a later time. 
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