31 October 2015

making faces :: eclipsed by armani

astronomically, an eclipse is caused when one astronomical object or its shadow passes in front of another, temporarily block its light from reaching earth. as it happens, there's a similar phenomenon in the cosmetic world, where one company's offering temporarily seems to block all others from sight, because it is just so covetable and so thrilling that it's difficult to see what else is around. i'm assuming that's why armani named their fall collection "eclipse", because it is rather a perfect metaphor. thanks for giving me an easy intro, armani.

to be fair, armani's late summer/ fall offering is a little disjointed: the "eclipse" collection proper is made up of four of their eye tints, along with corresponding nail polishes and a highlight powder. there were also supposed to be coordinated eyeliners, but from what i can tell, those never made it to counters. this one has been out for a few months and while the products are still available, they are limited [to the best of my knowledge, because such things are tricky with armani]. they also very quietly released a half dozen new shades in their rouge d'armani sheer formula, which are apparently joining the permanent assortment, although i've only seen one or two of them pop up at my counters here in montreal. [they're more accessible in the united states, since you can buy from armani directly.] on top of that, they released one of their shadow and blush/ highlighter palettes, one eye tint and a lipstick, as their "runway collection". this is a group of colours made up to exactly match the shades used by armani at their fall 2015 fashion shows. they had a similar collection in the spring and while both look gorgeous, the prices decidedly do not. the palettes are marked up about eighty percent for the canadian market, but the formulas are exactly the same. and finally, armani has released a new product for lips called "ecstasy lacquer", which looks like a new gloss, but is something quite different.

that is a lot of products and not all of the launches have been very well promoted. i feel like armani's marketing plan isn't built to accommodate everything they're doing and so perfectly good limited and permanent products fly under the radar, so far under the radar that even their sales associates don't seem to know what's going on some of the time.

readers of this blog know that i'm a big fan of armani and that their last run of launches have particularly impressed me. so it comes as no surprise that i've indulged a bit in all these collections. perhaps more than a little bit. ok, definitely more than a little bit. are you judging me? because i'm feeling judged. oh, wait, that's me judging me. you're just reading this and wondering why i'm talking to myself. it happens more often than i like to admit.

28 October 2015

world wide wednesday :: genocide by numbers

mass jewish grave in germany
if you asked most people to name five genocides that have occurred in the last thousand years, they'd likely be stumped. many people likely couldn't name one aside from the holocaust. but there have been a lot of mass killings of ethnic, religious or other minorities conducted by governments and empires, on every continent in the world except antarctica. you read that correctly. every single continent has seen at least one genocide perpetrated on its soil and most have seen more than one.

the holocaust is the most widely recognised because it was so scrupulously documented by the perpetrators. most nations have gone to great lengths to prove that they were not responsible for the deaths of millions of people, but nazi germany seemed unsettlingly proud of their efficiency in this regard. the way that the holocaust was organised also made the horror of it more striking for those who discovered it. in other genocides, evidence has generally been slow to emerge, spread out over wide areas. when the allied forces liberated germany, they were confronted with camps full of people sent there to die. third, the holocaust was perpetrated during a war that had involved much of the world, and was therefore accorded international attention. finally- and perhaps most importantly- it was perpetrated on groups who posed no military threat to their killers. this has confused our view of genocide, because in most cases, it has resulted from a military struggle or threat of insurrection. that the victims cannot entirely be represented as innocent in those cases in no way changes the fact that a genocide was committed against them.

it's that last point- the innocence of its victims- that tends to make people consider the holocaust the worst instance of genocide in history. but defining "the worst" is a tricky business. there are a lot of ways to evaluate horror, ways that may seem cold, but which nonetheless help us understand the history of cultural murder and the circumstances that have led to it.

before getting into that, of course, it's necessary to point out that the definition of genocide is itself problematic. for instance, the the murder or mass displacement [with the expectation of death] of a group on the basis of political opposition is not a genocide. crimes perpetrated against a political group were left out of the definition at the behest of the soviet union, who likely feared that they could be prosecuted if it had been part of the definition. there are also cases where the actions of a group seemed to fit the definition of genocide, but where there was no official policy that guided those actions, allowing the government plausible deniability [e.g., the murder and displacement of beothuk indians and tasmanian aborigines by english settlers] . then, of course, there are those genocides which may be acknowledged by some, but not all [e.g., the mass murder and displacement of armenians by ottoman turks].

in order to give a standard reference point, i've used the events and totals in this chart and i've taken the higher estimated death toll to calculate.

highest total death toll :: far and away the genocide with the greatest body count is the mass extermination of american indians by european invaders. an estimated 42 million people died and far more were rounded up and placed on government-controlled reserves, or taken away from their families to schools where they were forbidden to speak their own language or practice their own culture. the truly chilling thing is that the numbers would likely be much higher but for the fact that the europeans almost ran out of people to kill. the systematized extermination was carried on for over five hundred years after columbus landed in north america, but gains little attention because it was carried out by multiple governments, over a very long period of time and because its indirect methods [the spread of diseases to which the indigenous people of the americas had no immunity and forcible relocation away from resources] were so devastating.

most destructive :: another measure of a genocide is the impact it has on the victim population. survivors are left to resuscitate culture in the wake of a disaster and they are also the ones who can bear witness to the crimes. hitler and the nazis murdered 78% of the jews in the parts of europe that they occupied- almost four of every five. the ottoman turks murdered 750,000 assyrians over eight years, representing about 75% of the assyrians living in the empire. the qing [or manchu] dynasty killed 80% of the dzungar people [who lived in modern-day mongolia] over a period of three years in the eighteenth century, effectively destroying an entire culture. today, just over 15,000 people in mongolia identify as dzungar, or about 2.5% of the total number of people killed in the genocide.

in the nineteenth century, russia conducted a campaign against the circassians in the north caucasus that left only 80,000 out of a population of 1.5 million, meaning that nearly 95% of the population was killed or forced out of their homeland.

the percentage of american indians killed by european invaders has a huge range of estimates, from 50 up to 90%, but it's hard to tell, because there was no central government of all the tribes. what is certain is that the beothuk people of newfoundland were eradicated: the last surviving beothuk died in 1829. in just under twenty years, from 1878 to 1897, the canadian government starved more than half the population of the alberta sharphead band [a nakoda tribe], split the survivors into smaller groups and relocated them to live with different tribes before reclaiming the sharphead reserve lands for the crown. on the opposite side of the planet, the small population of aboriginal tasmanians was likewise wiped from the face of the earth. so of any group, english settlers have proven the most ruthless in conducting genocides.

victims of the armenian genocide
highest death rate :: one reason that the holocaust has such a profound grip on our imagination is the sheer number of people the nazis were able to kill and for how long. a total of 11 million dead between 1933 and 1945 means nearly a million deaths per year. the 1994 genocide in rwanda saw deaths at the same rate, as did the genocide of the igbo in nigeria from 1967-70, but both were much shorter in duration.

however, the mass deaths and displacement suffered by ukrainians at the hands of the soviet union in 1932-33 dwarfs both of those in comparison. because the deaths were indirect, the result of a famine that many believe was deliberately prolonged in order to weaken ukrainian opposition to the bolsheviks, not everyone accepts that this was a genocide. but 7.5 million people died as a result of stalin's actions, two-thirds the total that died in the holocaust in just two years. that's nearly four times the number of people per year than the nazis, all while maintaining plausible deniability. that, readers, is pure evil.

most genocidal nation :: there are a few countries that have done far too much to further the cause of genocide. which has been the most dangerous? well, there are a few different possibilities.

england is certainly a prime candidate, seeing as they conducted much of the indigenous genocides in north america and australia and set the framework in place for the future governments of canada, the united states, australia and new zealand to continue the work.

germany, the country synonymous with genocide, is only implicated in one, but clearly the scope of
statue of the "beothuk spirit"
the holocaust and the fact that the government directly murdered such a vast number makes it a unique case.

belgium should likely be considered alongside germany, however. over two and a half decades in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the forces of king leopold ii were responsible for the deaths of 10 million in the congo free state, as much as 50% of the population. that's very near holocaust numbers without the later advances in technology and outside of the government's immediate territory. the belgians got away with mass murder because many of the deaths were caused indirectly, through disease that was allowed [and encouraged] to spread and by deaths through forced labour. indeed, many don't even qualify this as a genocide, because the government was so successful in keeping themselves at a discreet distance.

when it comes to nations who are most likely to commit genocides, there are two that stand out:

russia is implicated in four separate genocidal campaigns, resulting in nearly 10 million deaths, over the last two hundred years. the czar went after the circassians, the civil war saw the deaths or deportations of the cossacks around the don river, then the bolsheviks starved and blockaded the ukraine and massacred the polish minority, all before the outbreak of the second world war.

mehmet vi, last sultan of the ottoman empire
turkey is implicated in five genocidal campaigns since 1915. they also have the dubious distinction of having conducted three concurrent genocides, against the armenians, assyrians and greeks from 1915-23. of course, they haven't acknowledged that these were genocides, which makes it a little difficult to move beyond the hurt and anger.

as difficult as it seems, i did want to end things on a slightly more positive note... that note is that, while we continue to see genocidal events around the world, they have decreased in frequency and scope and, perhaps most importantly, we're getting better at prosecuting them.

in the aftermath of world war ii, more than a hundred germans were convicted of crimes against humanity, as well as nazi collaborators in a half dozen european nations. eight japanese leaders responsible, including three former prime ministers, were sentenced to death for their role in the nanking massacre. more than three dozen people have been convicted in the genocidal massacres during the wars in the former yugoslavia. twenty-four people have been found guilty of genocide in rwanda, including the belgian-italian radio announcer who incited violence on air.

i was surprised to hear that demands that canadian history courses in school include the details of the genocide of first nations, inuit and métis people in canadian school history curriculum. i was surprised not because it was demanded, but because i couldn't imagine any possible objection to it that wasn't based on "we'd like to continue to lie". these same kids are learning about the holocaust as if it's an isolated event and not what happened in their own country. how is that acceptable? as unpleasant as the subject is, the subject of racial and cultural violence against minorities and against vulnerable populations needs to be discussed, so that future adults can be aware of how easy it is for conflict to escalate. at the very least, i'd like it if most people i asked could answer my opening question about naming five genocides. knowledge is power, and while we're getting better, we need to be a lot more powerful still.



a child stands over a mass grave in rwanda

27 October 2015

mental health 'mondays' :: mental ben?

i'm normally loathe to share things about violent, stupid or hateful things being attributed to mental illness, because i know it only backs up the myth that people suffering from mental illness are violent, stupid and hateful people. but i have to admit that this article about republican presidential hopeful ben carson, who has pulled ahead of long-time leader donald trump in one recent poll.

a lot of people have struggled to reconcile the image of ben carson the neurosurgeon, the first man to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head and to perfect a drastic surgical technique for treating pediatric epilepsy, with the man running for the republican presidential nomination, who seems prone to statements that are politely termed "eccentric". because some of those statements sound like red meat for the republican base, the mainstream media has been prone to accepting them as policy statements without analysing them further. sure, he likened abortion to human sacrifice, but a lot of republicans think that abortion is murder of an infant. and he said that the affordable care act was the worst thing to happen to the united states since slavery, but republicans in congress have been saying much the same thing, in only slightly less inflammatory terms.

left-wing media have contented themselves with the idea that he can be "book smart" and still be incredibly stupid and ignorant and i'm not saying that that isn't the case here. it's reassuring to think this and makes for better humour, but it's also a little difficult to believe. yes, ben carson is a devout christian, which undoubtedly shapes his beliefs, but it's not like he's lived a completely sheltered life. he's served on the board of directors for large corporations, including liberal-leaning costco and kellogg, so it's clear some people are satisfied that he knows something about business, even if they aren't aligned with his political beliefs. he's written six bestselling books and numerous peer-reviewed scientific papers, and he was raised in detroit, not exactly the backwoods. so, yes, it's possible that despite all this, he's remained wilfully ignorant. but is it really the most likely explanation?

so is there any evidence to support the theory that carson may be afflicted by something other than blind ignorance? hard evidence, no. but circumstantial evidence, just possibly.

take as an example the case of john nash, the nobel prize winning mathematician, whose work established principles used in economics, psychology, biology, logic and computer science. he was also a paranoid schizophrenic who believed that men in red ties were part of a communist conspiracy. while this might feed into the trope of the tortured genius, it's a very real story and nash believed his delusions, because they came to him in the same way as his uncanny understanding and aptitude for higher mathematics. the belief in a secret society of communists is exactly the sort of thing that would get picked up by the media as evidence of a ridiculous belief had nash run for public office. but is it any more ridiculous than the things ben carson has been spouting? arguably not.

secondly, let's consider ben carson's "low energy" [thanks, candidate trump] persona. we normally associate disorders like schizophrenia with active delusions and psychosis. but it can just as often be a condition marked by negative symptoms: lack of affectation, emotionless speech, inability to make or maintain eye contact, inability to focus on a conversation, which can lead to garulous or incoherent-seeming answers. i described dr. carson's first appearance at the last debate as "medicated", because, on arrival, he displayed the groggy, confused diction and movements of a person just roused from a good nap. during the debate, he seemed to ramble at times, finding it difficult to stay on topic, hesitating to dismiss the idea that vaccines cause autism [which, as a doctor, he should know to be false] and awkwardly shrinking from donald trump's attempt to give him a congenial high-five, as if he were unable to interpret the gesture. his famously "soft-spoken" demeanour is completely atypical for a politician, but very typical of negative-symptom schizophrenia.

it's obviously a pretty big leap to diagnose ben carson as a schizophrenic, but i'll admit that, now that the idea has been proposed, i can't entirely dislodge it. his statements seem to display an incoherence that goes beyond the deliberate provocations of donald trump, or the arch-conservative bile of ted cruz. his ideas exist in a universe of their own, which he dispassionately wanders without taking notice of who observes him. of the many bizarre statements he's made, none of them seem deliberately inflammatory, merely casual observations from a man who seems incapable of getting truly fired up about anything.

i like to think that mental illness should never be a barrier to anything, but even i have qualms about the idea of a person with an undiagnosed, untreated mental disorder rising to what is arguably the most powerful position in the world. and now that he's in the pole position to become one of two candidates for the job, maybe it's time we stop joking about how he's batshit crazy and start thinking about whether or not there is something more seriously wrong. 

25 October 2015

paranoia perspective

i'm working on the next paranoid theory of the week, but in the meantime, dom called this video to my attention. i think it's a good thing for all of us who tend to try just a little too hard to connect the dots.



of course, you could make the argument that trying to marginalize people who see coincidences by calling them paranoid [there is no equivalent word in the english language for a legitimate fear] and dismissing their arguments as unbelievable is in itself a sort of conspiracy to force people to conform to a consensus view of reality.

conspiracies do happen. we've investigated some of them here [and will investigate more]. coincidences also happen. so you should neither let yourself be bullied into believing things that seem suspicious nor into such fear and doubt that you become incapable of action. stay vigilant.

p.s. :: thanks to dom for finding this!

23 October 2015

making faces :: heavy metal!

now here is something different for fall, something that doesn't read as cosy, or rustic, or smoky in the least. yves st. laurent's centrepiece for their fall collection, the "metal clash" palette, is like a throwback to the hair metal heyday: lots of glitz, shine, and sparkle. subtlety is for pussies.

ok, it's not quite that crazy, but i'm willing to bet there are a lot of women who will find this palette triggers memories of applying half a bottle of final net and drying their hair upside down.

i actually wasn't a metal chick in the eighties [i wasn't much of anything], but i do remember that power dressing and makeup drama were everywhere, so i do get that kind of vibe from the colours in this palette. although the shade that grabs your attention is likely to be the intense gold that occupies the upper left corner, in use this is a very cool-toned palette, more so than you might think. i find that in keeping with that eighties lean towards cold, hard, polished beauty. it looks a little intimidating and is a little intimidating, but for those who want to relive their feathered hair and fierce makeup youth [or pretend that they had one], this is worth checking out.

the packaging is a little different than the regular palettes, with a semi-translucent plastic cover on the case. it's an interesting, retro-futurist effect, but it does kind of stick to things, which means that it can get a little dirty. not the worst thing i've ever encountered, and still better than older ysl packaging, but a little strange.


all yves st. laurent couture eye shadow palettes are supposedly arranged the same way: an all-over colour in the upper left, highlight in the upper right, two accent/ lid/ crease shades on the bottom and a liner shade in the centre. i'd like to meet the lady who dares to wear this palette in that way, because i wouldn't dare. [note: i am way behind on my reviews and so, since i didn't have shades to compare with at least two of the palette colours, i decided to just do shots of the colours on their own. if you have any questions about dupes, please just leave me a comment.]

the "base" or "all over" shade is an intensely, sparkly metallic gold. it's not a warm, clean gold, but more like an antique shade, with a lot of grey mixed in. this is one of the reasons that i say the palette reads as cooler. while the gold isn't exactly a cool shade, it's certainly cooler than most golds, with a slightly "dirty" quality.

metal clash #1
this is likely going to be the shade that takes the palette from "very pretty" to "well, i'm off to sell a kidney so i can afford it". the metallic texture is remarkable, in that it's not so much frosty as just very densely packed shimmer that forms a colour from being smooshed [technical term] together. it swatches beautifully, with a smooth, even texture, the kind of thing that makes makeup lovers' jaws drop. however, it's not quite so friendly in use. it's actually a little difficult to get it to show as a colour, for one thing. because it's more shimmer than base colour, it tends to get overwhelmed when it's placed around anything that has a definite base, let alone blended. and unfortunately, there are fallout issues.

now, the sparkle is fine enough that the fallout looks more like a fine gold shimmer highlighter, not like great chunks of failed glamour all over your face. i think if you wore it out for the evening, no one would see anything untoward. however, this is absolutely not something that is going to work at the office. [then again, this isn't the sort of colour combination that anyone is likely to wear at the office, unless they do actually work in the eighties.]

for how beautiful it is, i found it tricky to work with this shadow, except as a liner under the eyes. at least applied [carefully] with a flat liner brush, i could see the gold colour.

the highlight colour is an eerie, almost electric icy pink lavender. seriously, this shade may look tame, but it absolutely is not. it's almost like seeing a pale shade under a blacklight, it's so luminous. a little goes a mighty long way with this, more than you would think. the colour payoff is intense and it tends to really catch the light. i was surprised at how cautious i had to be to avoid overdoing it. lucky for me [and you!] it blends very easily, so you can fix mistakes.

metal clash #2
the colour is strong enough that it gives an icy cast to anything it blends with, which is one of the reasons why i describe this as a very cool palette. take this shade out of the equation and it isn't as starkly cool, but it also loses a lot of what makes it unique. you think that the gold is going to be the standout colour at first glance, but it's this shade where the real magic is. even without the rest of the palette, i love this one used as a highlighter on the inner corners of the eye.

in the lower right corner is a lovely cranberry shade with excellent colour payoff. there are other shades i've seen that are like this, but none of them have had the creamy true-to-pan richness of this one. it's pinker rather than red/ plum, which again makes it cooler on the skin. lasting power is phenomenal, which is not always the case for pink/ red/ purple shadows.

metal clash #3
the lower left colour, the second accent or lid shade, is a cool dark walnut wood brown. because there's so much colour going on everywhere else, it's sort of nice to have a neutral to work with and the quality of the shadow is impressive. because it's more understated, it can get a bit lost in the mix, but it helps add shape and dimension and could easily be used with other shades, where it wouldn't feel so overwhelmed.

metal clash #4
finally, there's the centre, liner shade, which is a dark, cool violet purple. it has a greyed, ashy quality that make me think it wouldn't be great as a liner against such a strong palette of colours as this, but i do like it for the crease or outer corners of the eyes. although it looks a bit dusty [the colour, not the consistency], it's somewhat stronger than the dark brown, so it's good for adding more drama. this palette is really about the drama. both this shade and the walnut brown have a near-but-not-quite matte finish. there's a bit of sheen [less on this one than on the brown], but they're much less flashy than their roommates.

metal clash #5
i've played around with the palette in different ways since i got it and find that, while that drama means it's not quite as flexible as palettes where there are more soft and neutral shades, there are a number of different ways to wear it.

my first attempt involved using all five shades. i placed the "highlight" on the inner part of the lids, the antique gold on the outer third and used the two deeper shades to create a smoky effect on the outer corners and into the crease. then i blended the cranberry colour around the dark bits.





can you see the gold? no, of course you can't, but it is in there. it was more visible in person, but not much. and a fair amount of it ended up on my cheeks.

i used sort of the same application for this look, but i decided to do a type of cut-crease approach, rather than the softer, smokier one above. i used the gold on the outer half of the lower lash line, but otherwise stuck to the icy lavender, cranberry and dark violet.




the photos are kind of lame, because this looked much nicer in person and held its definition [often a problem with cut-crease looks] very well throughout the day. the icy shade on the lids was very effective.

and remember when i said i liked the highlight used with other colours on the inner corners? here it is on a more neutral look. this is just a tiny bit, but look at the effect. million-watt eyes, coming up.



i can still think of some other looks i'm eager to try with this palette, although i feel like i should reserve it for a night out, or at least for something that doesn't only involve vacuuming and running to the corner store. i feel like the palette wants more from me. and if you want a palette that challenges you to be outspoken in your glamour, this is certainly a great option. it's limited, so don't take too long to think about it! currently available at yves st. laurent counters everywhere and on sephora. [although, in canada at least, it's more expensive at sephora than it is anywhere else. i don't know why.]

and since i invoked the memory of eighties glam metal earlier in this review, i feel obliged to leave the last word on the subject to mr. patton oswalt...



... because that's the only thing that really needs to be said about eighties metal, ever, by anybody. 

20 October 2015

ten reasons it's ok to be happy about the election, 2015 edition



close to ten years ago, i wrote a piece about why it was ok to be a little happy about the 2006 election result, the one that first saw stephen harper brought to power, albeit with a minority government. believe it or not, i stand by that post. the liberals had been in power close to fifteen years and they had become corrupt and ineffective. they needed to be knocked down a few pegs. i didn't agree with harper's policies, but i'd hoped that being in a minority, he'd be forced to temper the worst of them in order to negotiate support with others. in the end, of course, he chose to govern as if he were in a majority, constantly threatening to make every vote a confidence vote and throw the country into an endless cycle of elections. he clamped down on science, fomented fear and xenophobia, disenfranchised canadians living abroad, established rules for "security" that opened the door to a full-on police state, coldly ignored the plight of first nations, inuit and métis people... these have not been good times.

but for my own part, i gave the guy a chance and i feel like that's the least i could do.

for some reason, i'm finding that harder to manage today. maybe it's because my very first political experiences involve supporting my aunt and her party in their attempts to unseat justin trudeau's father. maybe it's because justin reminds me of the wealthy, privileged boys in high school who used to throw things out of cars at me and my other left wing freak friends. maybe it's because i feel like his party stole jack layton's dying words and used them against the party he'd worked so hard to build. or maybe it's because i've seen a lot of liberals put on a progressive mask during past campaigns and then do an about face once elected.

although the complexion of the house of commons has changed greatly, it's hard to square an appetite for "real change" by replacing the conservatives with the same party that has run the country for most of the time it has existed. we do have a real weakness here- both our citizens and our media- for interpreting a change of faces at the front of a party with a fundamental change in the party [not just for the liberals]. perhaps that was why no one questioned justin trudeau on his party's record in office.

but if i can find ten reasons to be happy about the election that first brought stephen harper to power, i can damn well find ten reasons to be happy about this.

1. harper is gone. our long national nightmare is over. maybe not in every part of the country, but make no mistake, the reason that the tide turned so suddenly in favour of trudeau was because so many people were determined that they would not stand for another minute of him in office [he is actually prime minister for the next several weeks, until justin trudeau is sworn in -ed.] and shifted their votes to the party who had historically seemed most likely to defeat him. perhaps the sweetest moments of the campaign for many of us were the ones where we watched harper's ads where he promised that this election was not about him, aired because it was clear that his personal unpopularity was the greatest threat to his party. hateful person forced to stand on national television and admit he is hateful and beg for his life.

2. a lot more people voted. with canada's voter participation falling to around 60% for the last two elections, it was pretty clear that we had a problem. to address that problem, stephen harper made it more difficult or flat-out impossible for some people to vote, through the provisions of the "fair elections act", possibly the most ironically named legislation in canadian history. this time, voter turnout was 69.4% and in eastern canada, where the anti-harper tide was so strong that the liberals took every single seat, voter turnout was in the mid-to-high seventies in places. that's a remarkable level of participation. whether they thought trudeau was so wonderful or harper was so evil, people were motivated to make a statement. prime minister elect trudeau has promised to repeal the "fair" elections act. let's hold him to that.

3. more indigenous representation. every party leader should be ashamed of themselves for not making a bigger issue out of white canada's treatment of first nations people. but not only them. canadians should be ashamed of themselves for not making it more of an issue. the horrors of the report of the truth and reconciliation commission and the non-investigation into missing and murdered indigenous women should have been important to all canadians, but they weren't. the parties weren't eager to have the issue raised, because both the liberal and conservative federal governments have disgusting histories on this issue. having never been in power federally, the new democrats have less to answer for, but all the more reason for them to have made the issue a centrepiece of their platform. the good news is that canada now has ten indigenous members of parliament. that may not sound like much, but it's more than we've ever had before and it includes members of four different indian nations, métis and inuit.

4. fear failed. the harper conservative campaign started well before the election call, with ads mocking justin trudeau's political inexperience and optimism, ads which continued throughout the longest campaign in modern history, finally turning threatening when the momentum started to move in trudeau's direction. harper tried to stir up fear of muslims, by making an issue of whether or not a handful of conservative muslim women should be allowed to wear their niqab while taking the oath of citizenship in canada. he did manage to suck the wind out of the ndp sails with that move, especially in quebec, but he saw little benefit from it. while in office, harper did manage to pass the anti-terror/ information sharing bill c-51, the provisions of which were enough to alarm the united nations because of their potential for anti-free speech abuse. once people started to find out about the content of the bill, it became a rallying point for harper haters. prime minister elect trudeau and the liberals supported bill c-51, although he hasn't completely rejected the possibility of amending certain parts of it. canadians don't support the bill and we should make him very aware that, as our employee, he needs to improve his performance in that regard. [side note :: the failure of fear-mongering attack ads was actually one of the things i took heart from in the 2006 election. nice to see how well that lesson was learned.]

5. positivity prevailed. say what you want about trudeau or the liberals, there is no denying that their campaign was soaked in sunshine. aside from their slightly scary [but eye-catching!] poster art, they radiated optimism from every pore and canadians responded. the most hopeful campaign carried the day, more so than they believed they could.

6. canadians saw through austerity. the conservative party and the new democrats were probably shocked to discover that their message of financial prudence fell on deaf ears, but after many, many, many years about hearing of the evils of running a deficit and having seen little to no benefits under the harper government, justin trudeau's plan to run a small deficit for a few years in order to invest in infrastructure [at a time when the cost of borrowing money is so cheap].

7. the "new labour" experiment is over. in recent elections, the left-leaning new democratic party has been trying to go all tony blair and shift to a more centrist position in the way that the british labour party did in the nineties. and canadians have spoken loud and clear: stow that noise. in fact, the disintegration of the ndp vote, while it's due in part to the zealous desire to see stephen harper gone, can largely be blamed on the fact that they allowed the liberals to steal the progressive angle from them. it could be argued that people were more willing to accept progressive talk and deficit spending from the liberals than they were from the never-tested ndp, but it's pretty clear that they're not eager to accept the small-c conservative approach.

8. quebec is back in the government. i'm lifting that almost verbatim from trudeau and while i think that the eastern swing to the liberals robbed us of some fine parliamentarians, it's been over twenty years since quebec had a significant number of members in the governing party. that's not good for any province. you see? justin's been prime minister for less than twenty-four hours and i already agree with him on something.

9. our prime minister believes in science. don't get me wrong, i'm concerned that, in an effort to reassure westerners that he was not their fathers' trudeau, justin sucked up to oil companies with the force of a black hole and environmental policy was clearly a low-key for him during the campaign [although he's promised to investigate the impact of the keystone pipeline], but he has pledged to restore funding to scientific organisations that was slashed by harper, who didn't like the fact that their discoveries didn't align with his policies. trudeau has also promised to reinstate the long-form census, because, when you're making important decisions, it's kind of nice to have things like statistics and facts at your disposal. at the very least, i believe that trudeau is going to try to redress some of the evil's of the harper government's war on science.

10. we'll know if promises are broken. we'll actually know mighty quickly, too, because candidate trudeau promised that his cabinet would be at least 50% women. so as soon as he appoints his cabinet, we're going to see how serious he is about sticking to his word. [he's recommitted to this today, also.] i was happy to see that the "friends of cbc" facebook group was quick to post that they would be holding him to his promise to restore the $115 million removed from their budget by stephen harper. [while he's at it, maybe he could reverse the much more damaging cuts inflicted by the liberals the last time that they were in office?] most importantly, party platforms have never been so accessible as they are now, which means that it's much easier for the media and the people to check exactly what was promised compared to what is delivered.

11. proportional representation is on the table? that's right, it's bonus happy. this is one promise that i'm not holding my breath for, but candidate trudeau did say that he'd look at reforming our pathetic first-past-the-post voting system. several people have pointed out that he might not be so eager to open that can of worms, since the difference between those two systems is the difference between him having a majority and a minority. that said, i think a lot of people realise that the first past the post system sucks balls at least fifty percent of the time no matter who you are. i say i'm not holding my breath, because that's the sort of reform that could take a very, very long time to work through. so, while i intend to hold mr. trudeau to his promises, i'm going to give him some latitude with this one. you see? i can be a nice, reasonable person when i've had adequate amounts of coffee and sleep.

and if that's not enough to make you feel good... did i mention stephen harper is gone??? seriously, that was really all most of us were asking for from this election. no, it isn't the groundbreaking, new day rising, real change we might have hoped for, but when the building is on fire, maybe it's not the time to start bitching about who the first responders are. we can work with this and if it turns out we can't, we have a chance to make a decision in another four years. i'm not sure how optimistic i feel about things right now, but i'm trying to take to heart the words i heard someone say recently: better is always possible.

p.s. :: the prime minister designate has also made it clear that he's committed to stopping bombing raids in syria. not being a country that turns people into refugees really belongs on the list. 

19 October 2015

paranoid theory of the week :: did big business attempt a fascist coup of the united states?

maj. gen. smedley butler
with senator bernie sanders meeting with popular success in his grassroots campaign for the democratic party's nomination for president in 2016, we've been hearing a lot more about the depths to which corporate america will sink in order to maintain their control over wealth and power. of course, those with even a passing knowledge of modern history know that corporations have sunk pretty damn low in the past, in some cases using governments [and public funds] as their own army to strengthen their position. [if you're not familiar with the details, there are some in the world wide wednesdays piece on honduras that give an idea of what i'm talking about.] but what about at home? how far are corporate interests willing to go in order to maintain their privileges? not that far back, some argue that the answer appeared to be "all the way". so this week will look at the evidence surrounding the little known "business plot".

the theory ::
alarmed by actions taken by president franklin d. roosevelt, a group of wealthy businessmen hatched a plot to install a fascist dictatorship lead [in appearance] by a group of war veterans.

the origin ::
lifelong soldier and war hero major general smedley butler broke the story and said that he had been approached to head up the veterans' group that would be at the vanguard of the revolution.

the believers ::
smedley butler, who believed that the conspiracy was real enough that he went public with his allegations. the congressional house unamerican activities committee believed at least some of it after hearing his testimony.

the bad guys :: 
only one was named in the official transcript of testimony, a bond salesman named gerald macguire. but general butler testified that macguire was only the point man, working for others. that included german-born banker felix warburg, john morgan, head of the j.p. morgan financial group, robert sterling clark, heir to the singer sewing machine company, remington corporation and dupont chemical.

the evidence ::
much of the evidence in this case comes down to major general butler's testimony before the house unamerican activities committee. unfortunately, what he said was heavily redacted, because the committee deemed that it would be too defamatory to the businessmen named in the testimony. so how believable the story is ultimately depends on one's evaluation of butler as a person and as a witness.

but first, let's set the scene: it was 1933 and newly minted president franklin delano roosevelt was pushing bills through congress at record speed. he was inaugurated in the shadow of a banking crisis and america was still neck deep in the great depression. roosevelt believed that the key to getting the economy running again was to make people and businesses feel secure enough to start spending again. to that end, he implemented a large number of programs collectively referred to as the "new deal". those programs extended funding to the states to create aid programs for those most in need, but they also represented a move by the federal government into what had previously been purely business territory. the industrial recovery act encouraged [although it did not mandate] businesses to establish a code of ethics that would put limits on predatory or extremely competitive behaviour, and establish basic standards for industrial practices. the act was thrown out by a unanimous decision of the supreme court, but roosevelt had thrown his gauntlet: he introduced the securities and exchange commission to regulate wall street, established the federal deposit insurance commission to safeguard savings in the event of a bank collapse and set in motion the process to create a minimum wage [which was intended to be a living wage, in case anyone tries to tell you differently]. big business looked at roosevelt and saw someone who would place new limits on their power and profits.

does that mean that roosevelt raised the ire of some powerful business figures? yes. does it mean that they were going to stage a coup and depose him? that would be "no".

when major general butler came forward with his allegations, they were ridiculed in the press at the time as fatuous at best. and if the accusations had come from anyone other than butler, they likely would have been ignored. but butler was a hero. he had served in wars in honduras, the philippines, china, mexico, cuba and more. he'd twice been given the congressional medal of honour and twice refused to accept it, because he didn't want his individual efforts recognised at the expense of the group. nor was he a legend only within the military. he was widely known and highly respected throughout the country, possibly the best-known military man of his time. he wasn't just anyone.

butler's story was that he was approached by gerald macguire, the nobody bond manager, who claimed to be acting on behalf of a group of prominent individuals. that group wanted fdr out of office and they wanted to put someone in place they could trust and who would persuade the public to go along with their unorthodox plan. the plan was that butler would lead a group of up to half a million veterans into washington, march right up to the white house and physically pull roosevelt out of it. of course, they'd also make sure that there were adequate weapons, money and support to ensure that this didn't just end up being a freak incident that got butler and his followers killed.

once the dust had settled, macguire promised that butler would be given a position at the head of government for life, while roosevelt was demoted to a figurehead with no real power. he would receive millions of dollars for his work and could then basically sit on his exemplary rump and let things unfold as they might. not a bad retirement offer, especially since social security hadn't been invented yet. [roosevelt got around to that a couple of years later.]

as an ally, butler seemed to tick all the corporate revolutionary boxes: he was popular [although he'd failed in a senate bid in 1932], he was a republican and hence opposed to roosevelt on political grounds, he had a reputation that was beyond reproach. but as it turned out, his unsuccessful foray into politics had made butler question a lot of his ideas. in fact, he'd started to turn very definitely towards the left. he'd become a severe critic of u.s. foreign policy and war profiteering and, while he had criticised democratic party policies with regards to veterans, that didn't run as deep as macguire and his co-conspirators might have hoped. he'd supported roosevelt in the 1932 election and by 1933 had started to voice many concerns over the capitalist system as a whole.

in november 1934, the mccormack dickstein committee, aka the house unamerican activities committee [originally tasked with finding fascists, but much more famous for trying to find communists after the second world war] opened hearings into the allegations. butler testified, but the "big" names he mentioned were removed from the official record and none of them were ever questioned because the committee felt that the testimony that implicated them was hearsay. butler was furious and said publicly that the committee had had a responsibility to let the public know the names mentioned. [in fact, the names filtered down to us anyway because a reporter for a communist paper, john spivak, published them anyway.]

gerald macguire
the committee did interview macguire and found that he was a member of the union-busting american legion and an official with the committee for a sound dollar and sound currency, a group backed by j.p. morgan and other financiers demanding that the american dollar be returned to the gold standard. he had spent time in europe studying how veterans' groups could be used in political movements, which connects him to one of the named conspirators and does sound suspiciously like he was researching the exact same thing butler was accusing him of doing.

given the way that the well-known names were hushed up, you would expect that the committee returned a report that dismissed butler's accusations as the product of a feverish imagination. not quite. in fact, while they did not pursue charges against anyone, or even investigate any further, the committee was convinced that butler was telling the truth, and that there had been some plot to organise fascists within america. because butler had only ever met with macguire, the verifiable evidence stopped with him. the committee was not convinced that a coup had been imminent, or even in the advanced planning stages, but they were persuaded that butler had been approached about something. and if, as butler and spivak alleged, the committee had attempted to whitewash the events, that in itself is a pretty substantial admission.

a few months after the commission submitted its report, gerald macguire died suddenly at the grand old age of thirty-eight. five years later, before the u.s. was even involved in the second world war, general butler died after the acute onset of an upper gastrointestinal tract infection, which ultimately proved to be cancer. he was only fifty-eight at the time.

with their deaths, the story of the so-called "business plot" faded entirely and today it's pretty much an unknown story outside far-left publications and conspiracy fan circles.

likelihood :: 8/10
butler's testimony, however limited, was evidently persuasive enough that even a government committee felt that there was something to his claims. and since the overwhelming bulk of our knowledge is based on what he said, it seems reasonable to assume that he's a reliable witness.

what can't be proven is how far along things had actually come. was this just idle chatter among angry right-wingers trying to impress each other by throwing around names of business connections and implying that they could be counted on for support? was it something that had been discussed half-seriously at higher levels? a lot of that hinges on a greater knowledge of the messenger, gerald macguire, which is unfortunately not forthcoming.

needless to say, the men named in spivak's article as involved in the conspiracy denied knowing anything about it. but that is the expected reaction. we'll never know how a more detailed investigation would have incriminated or exonerated them. [i haven't gotten into the links that some prominent industrialists had with fascist regimes in germany, italy and spain and with fascist movements in other parts of the world, but those links did exist, whether or not they implied support for the political movements, or an openness to doing business with any paying customers.]

by definition, the plot entered the realm of conspiracy when macguire contacted butler. even if the plan had existed only in his head, the attempt to recruit someone else makes it a conspiracy. so there is something there. it's one of those theories that's tantalizingly close to being verified: we're pretty damn sure something happened, but we lack the evidence to confirm it was tied to much larger interests.

what we can say is that there was some type of conspiracy to remove roosevelt from office and that there was an attempt made to get a very prominent person to join the effort. how close it came to actually happening is still very much a subject for debate. 

17 October 2015

meanwhile, in another part of the political forest...

we all got shivers...
there's no getting around it... the democrats just do not have the high comedy value of the republicans when it comes to television. donald trump was already crowing about how many more viewers "his" debates got [and, let's face it, they are his debates for the purpose of drawing an audience] before the democrats' evening in the spotlight had even started. that said, more people tuned in to watch than had ever tuned in to a democratic debate in the past [fifteen million viewers], which is probably higher than the number who watched the republican debates and took them seriously. and although the unintentional hilarity was low, those who did tune in were treated to something that americans [and canadians] rarely get: a group of candidates debating important issues and making the case for their approach being the best for the party to take into a general election.

i've been watching debates for a long time and i can honestly say that i have never seen a debate were the participants were more respectful of each other. indeed, the contrast with the republican debates could hardly have been more stark: there were no people making fun of each other's appearance, yelling over each other at almost every opportunity and opting for one-liners and discredited theories [no, donald, vaccines do not cause autism] rather than specific plans they had to ameliorate the position of americans. it was actually a bit weird.

there's been a fierce argument about whether the "winner" was bernie sanders or hillary clinton, but i think the real winner was the party, because what was communicated by the entire evening was a not-so-subtle reminder that when everyone gets tired of the side show and starts to think more seriously about who they think can tackle real problems and who embodies the sort of image they want to project to the world, the democratic party will have an option for them.

i also thought that cnn acquitted themselves better this time around than they did with the previous republican debate. that isn't saying much, but there were some tough questions for each candidate and there was never the sense that things were getting out of control as they had on the last occasion. [however, i think that that is at least as much to do with the candidates as with cnn.] there were some silly questions at the beginning about electability, a concept that no media professionals seem to understand. the idea that a certain type of person is electable holds only until something happens to change that. prior to 2008, blacks weren't electable. prior to 1960, neither were catholics. to talk about the potential for a different sort of candidate- a woman, a socialist, someone who is still pretty unknown- being unelectable is trying to see the road ahead through a rearview mirror: if the road isn't perfectly straight, there will be problems.

along with the comportment of the candidates, the other major difference in this debate was that the questions were generally far tougher than those from the republican debate. anderson cooper had research on hand to back up claims that he made on the record of the candidates [although he did tell at least one lie, claiming that bernie sanders had honeymooned in the soviet union]. he pressed where necessary, which was a nice change of pace. however all this just goes to show, as cenk uygur from the young turks put it, that cnn and all the major news networks are terrified of the republican party. they pander to them by throwing out soft questions, letting non-answers slide and declining to correct even the most blatant untruths. [cnn now claims that republican candidate carly fiorina's declining numbers are due to her lying about the content of deceptive anti-choice videos about planned parenthood and therefore alienating moderate republicans, however, on the night of the debate, their pundits said the statement was a reasonable inference from the video.]

the most replayed moment from the debate is undoubtedly senator sanders flabbergasted response to host anderson cooper's question about hillary clinton's emails. it's being replayed mostly for the humour value and because pundits have referred to it as a "gift" to mrs. clinton, but again, the analysis misses the point: sanders is right and the content and handling of those emails is not important in the lives of americans. he might have added that anyone who does consider her emails to be an important factor was never going to vote for a democrat anyway. [incidentally, there are perfectly valid concerns about a high level member of the administration communicating government business through a medium that cannot be accessed and archived. it removes the ability of the people to learn what the government does in their name, which is scary should anything go wrong in the future, and says some nasty stuff about how unconcerned powerful people can be with keeping state business even marginally transparent. but the issue has been so mishandled that it's become ridiculous to discuss. ideally, this is a time when the media should step in and ask questions on behalf of the public rather than facilitating the partisan blandishments, but neither cnn nor their compatriots are up to that task and so, as long as no salient questions are being asked, sanders is perfectly right to dismiss the line of inquiry.]

what's gotten lost in the post-debate coverage are the more interesting discussions- about gun control, climate change, even the nature and limitations of capitalism- which is  a shame, because it's one of the few debates where i've seen the candidates willing to have discussions and not just regurgitate sound bites. i can't guarantee that feeling of goodwill is going to last indefinitely, so if you have the chance to watch this momentous event, it's worth doing so just to see what a decent debate looks like.

in parting, i give you a few words about the individual performances:

lincoln chafee :: ok, there was one clear loser and you were it. don't get me wrong, you seem like kind of a sweet person, sort of the way my superintendent's six year old seems like a sweet person. i'm sure he still believes in the goodness of the world and thinks "it's my first day" is an all-purpose excuse too. you were so out of your depth it was painful, but honestly, i'm more apt to support the six year old for president. i haven't heard that you've dropped out yet, but we both know that's a matter of time.

martin o'malley :: possibly the person who did himself the most good on the night, although your opening statement was like what quaaludes would sound like if they could speak. owned the gun control discussion, but seemed way too evasive in a republican way about the deleterious effects of your policies on the [disproportionately black] urban poor in maryland, and how they've lead to deep mistrust between the people and the authorities. won't give you much of a boost in the polls, but may well give you a position in the administration and set you up for a run later on. which i suspect is the point of your running.

jim webb :: you deserved a better pundit reaction than you got, but no one likes a guy who keeps crying "unfair". you didn't get a lot of time [chafee got less, but that was probably doing him a favour] and you made your point. the first time you made that point, you seemed like you were being treated unfairly. the subsequent six times, it came off as a little whiny. there's been a lot of talk that you'd make a great republican candidate, which should be offensive to you given the quality of their candidates. you'd blow those people off the stage. you seemed a bit stiff and severe throughout, but you weren't bad. i suspect you'll be leaving us soon.

bernie sanders :: you held your ground. i was perhaps expecting a little more from you, because i'd heard that you were a great debater. it seemed like you were trying to use the same barn-burner speech-making that's served you well in front of crowds in the thousands thus far, but in a smaller room, with a more staid atmosphere, it seemed overwhelming. as important as your message is, you came off as a little one-note, turning everything back to the politics of economic disenfranchisement. even though virtually everything does relate in some way to that, you needed to show that you have the capacity to address different components of that problem at the same time. nonetheless, your influence on the campaign this year is felt in every area and if it weren't for you taking the high road and refusing to criticize your fellow candidates, we all know that the whole proceeding would have lacked the class that made it so distinctive. stick around, please, for as long as you can.

hillary clinton :: polished, presidential and practically perfect in every way. seriously, if you had a problem, it was that you might have been too perfect and left people wondering how much of what they were seeing was really you. your weakest point was your answer on how your opinions seem to change in line with public opinion, which is too bad, because it was a glorious opportunity to say "maybe i'm just evolving in the way that the american public is evolving". seriously, you can use that. the criticism that you said you were proud of having made enemies of republicans is asinine: you were asked to name the enemy you were proudest to have made and you're who's who of who hates hillary rightly got a laugh; anyone watching the debate with even a slightly open mind realised that you were referring specifically to that right wing fringe of congressional republicans who have worked so determinedly against you. a word to the wise, though: stop assuming that being a woman is enough to make you new and different. in many ways, it does, but you're also a powerful political insider: focus on explaining how that doesn't define you and how you won't be a prisoner of the vested interests backing your candidacy. bernie sanders isn't saying he'd be different because he's jewish. illustrating how your gender can make you a different sort of candidate on certain issues is great- the loudest applause of the night came when you said republicans were fine with big government as long as it was being used to control a woman's body- but it's not enough just to "play the gender card". 

14 October 2015

making faces :: fall for all, part 3 [a seasonal colour analysis experiment]

well this one was a doozy. in fact, without prejudicing the yet-to-be-completed fourth and final segment of this experiment, i'm going to say that this is probably the hardest of the four parts. for those of you who just dropped by and aren't sure what you've gotten yourself into, i've been doing a spin on typical autumnal looks in both makeup and clothing interpreted for the twelve sci/art colour analysis "seasons" [archetypes]. i started off easy with "autumn for autumns", then moved on to the darker [and brighter] side with "autumn for winters" and now we've moved on to "autumn for springs".

i touched last time on how, whereas the cooler summer and winter seasons can play around with using elements of each other's palettes, warmer seasons absolutely do not. i actually find that it's easier to incorporate typically autumn colours [in small amounts] into an outfit or makeup for cool-toned summers [because both palettes are muted] or winters [because both are dark]. spring warmth is the gold of morning sun, of peaches and nectarines and strawberries, or barley candy- saturated and clear. autumn is the rich amber gold of the late day, of the fields at harvest time, of dried fruit and jars of spices in the pantry. autumn colours look like dirt on spring skin and spring's colours look like plastic on an autumn.

nevertheless, people with spring complexions have to dress themselves in the autumn and would like to find ways to incorporate the warm and woolly layers, the darker side of their otherwise light palette and the warm, smoky, comforting looks that abound at cosmetic counters and in retail clothing stores at this time of year. and this challenge is especially close to my heart because, while i can't be certain, i strongly suspect that i have some spring in my colouring [as either a bright winter or bright spring] and yet i adore the fashions of autumn. this is my conundrum.


12 October 2015

mental health mondays :: rethinking schizophrenia

schizophrenia is one of those things that people tend to assume they understand, because they've heard the word so often. but the fact is that none of us know very much about schizophrenia, because even the people who've studied it the most admit that they don't know very much about it. so the rest of us are clearly fumbling around in the dark.

a couple of things that everyone should know are what schizophrenia isn't: it isn't the same as schizoaffective disorder or schizoid disorder. and when you hear the term "schizo" applied to behaviour, more often than not it's referring to a layman's interpretation of bipolar disorder, meaning behaviour that seems to be diametrically opposed to itself over a short period of time. [that's not an accurate portrayal of bipolar disorder either, but that's an issue for another day.] also, schizophrenia is often conflated with dissociative personality disorder or "multiple personality disorder" as it used to be known. it isn't. schizophrenics do not have fugue states where they "turn into someone else".

the problem with schizophrenia is that it's essentially a catch-all term for serious mental disorders that aren't clearly something else. so we know that it's not bipolar disorder, because it isn't characterized by wild swings in emotion, energy and disposition. it's not a dissociative disorder, because the person doesn't perceive themselves as having "broken" from their body and because there seem to be physical, chemical symptoms that aren't present with "straight-up" dissociative disorders. but virtually anything else can be considered schizophrenia. it's a disease of positive symptoms- the common view where one is paranoid and incapable of discerning real from imaginary, and hallucinates or imagines various objects/ people/ beings that are not there- and of negative symptoms- absence of emotion or reaction, inability to experience emotion in the way that others normally do. it can be long-term or short term. it can change how it presents. it can co-exist with other disorders. it's defined by its symptoms, rather than a physical test, but its symptoms are almost impossibly vast and medicine holds that there is a physical component to it [errant brain chemistry], which is what separates it from mood disorders.

so: we know a few things it isn't, we know how it's diagnosed, but we very clearly don't know what it is. and we never have. psychiatrists have been howling for decades about how ridiculously broad the definition of schizophrenia is, but when it comes time to parse terms, everything sort of falls apart, because discussions are predicated on the idea that schizophrenia is one thing, and the discussion can't really begin without the acknowledgment that it may be a lot of things that have just generally been grouped together. [canadians may find this sort of problem familiar, because it's exactly like the problems we encounter when trying to deal with our constitution.]

luckily, we have very smart people trying to figure out the things that can go wrong in the brain and produce the grab-bag of symptoms we define loosely as "schizophrenia". for those of us who are curious but aren't quite smart enough to figure it out for ourselves [like me], i thought i'd offer a quick look at what recent research has uncovered about schizophrenia, its causes and the potential for a cure.

mean gene :: scientists at duke university published research earlier this year that helps narrow the range of suspect genes. specifically, it narrows the field to one, which explains three major physical traits associated with schizophrenia: a reduced number of "branches" to receive signals from other cells in the neurons at the front of the brain, hyperactive neurons and an excess of dopamine in the brain. all of those things are associated with schizophrenia and all of them were observed in mice when researchers selectively deleted a gene in the prefrontal cortex known as arp2/3. [i don't want to know how researchers selectively delete genes in mice either.]

your brain on drugs :: this isn't as new a hypothesis as the arp2/3 gene, but it's still a lot newer than any of the ones that inform the way that schizophrenia is currently treated. basically, it stems from the observation that certain drugs [particularly ketamine and pcp] mimic the symptoms of schizophrenia, and so maybe the key to understanding the mental disorder is by examining the mechanism of action of those drugs. ketamine and, to some extent, pcp, cause you to freak the fuck out because it interferes with the signalling patterns of the neurotransmitter glutamate. glutamate is the most plentiful neurotransmitter in the entire body and it has receptors in every part of the brain. most interestingly, it controls both the excitatory and inhibitory brain functions, so its culpability could explain why schizophrenia has both positive and negative symptoms. like the hypothesis that schizophrenia is caused by an imbalance of dopamine [which was also developed through observing the effects of certain drugs], it gives a direction for possible drug therapy. in fact, problems with glutamate would explain the dopamine imbalance itself. while promising, it's worth noting that testing of drugs that work on glutamate receptors has not been especially successful. yet.

the cat did it :: i'm always a little wary of fads, which are as prominent in science as they are anywhere else and it does seem like toxoplasmosis gondii, the cat poop parasite, is getting implicated in everything these days. nevertheless, there's some research that indicates that some cases of schizophrenia may be related. it's important to note that no one's claiming this is what causes schizophrenia. it may increase the chances of schizophrenia in people who are genetically predisposed to it anyway and even as far as that's concerned, the jury is still out. am i the only one thinking that this parasite is secretly ruling the world?

the hateful eight? :: in a study that got a lot of publicity last year, scientists broke down the schizophrenia model even further. unlike the researchers trying to isolate a particular gene responsible for schizophrenia, a scientific team at the washington university school of medicine in st. louis took a broad look at all of the genes that had been implicated and studied in the occurrence of the disorder and came to a conclusion: none of them is a reliable indicator of future schizophrenia. there is no single identified gene that is consistent through all types of schizophrenia. however, there are clusters of genes that, when they occur together, confer a pretty much a 100% chance of developing schizophrenia. furthermore, there are eight different clusters, each linked to a different variation of what we call schizophrenia. so schizophrenia is actually eight different conditions that we've been calling by the same name. that's not unheard of, by any means. i guarantee you've indulged in it yourself, telling people you have "a cold". "a cold" is any one of several hundred viruses [that mutate constantly to make hundreds of new viruses] that produce similar symptoms. you take medication that treats the symptoms, so that you can remain somewhat functional while the virus works its way through your system. so the proper answer to the tired old joke about why medicine can't find a cure for the common cold is "because there is no such thing".

finding treatments for eight different conditions, however, is very manageable, as long as your definition of "manageable" includes being prepared to dismiss any preconceived notions you might have about what it is you're treating. you also have to be willing to get serious about it very quickly, because the work that's lead to this breakthrough is basically telling us that the people who have these genetic clusters are destined to develop a particular form of schizophrenia no matter what they do.

clearly, there's a lot of work to be done in order to get real help for people with schizophrenia. the treatments we have now are based on research that was conducted decades before any of the above theories was advanced. doesn't mean that the treatments we have now can't work, but it does mean that we need to do a lot better.

11 October 2015

paranoid theory of the week :: the reading list

this is actually an older post that i'm recycling, because it predates "paranoid theory of the week" and i think it would be of interest to those who are fans of these posts. the titles are all fiction, but some of them touch on real conspiracies and mysteries, while others just exhibit a style that will appeal to conspiracy buffs and reinforce that way of looking at the world. feel free to send along any suggestions as well.

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screw the davinci code, or any of those other pop fiction mysteries that have enjoyed a moment in the spotlight. if you, like me, enjoy a novel that fills you with the sense of creeping dread that comes only from the sensation that vast, powerful, alien forces are controlling your life and your destiny, here are a few choice fiction bits that you must check out!

charles palliser :: the quincunx :: the fastest eight hundred pages you will ever read. this story of inheritance in all its forms, set in nineteenth century england is remarkable not just because it is such a compulsive read, but because palliser manages to fold so many mysteries into the story under the guise of just one. the first time i read it, i thought that i had everything figured out, but subsequent readings have revealed more, once i was able to divert my attention from the main storyline. don't be fooled when it seems the answers are very obvious. it's often a ploy to distract you from something else. dickens may have mastered the art of the orphan's tale, but palliser manages to make it just a little more compelling.

thomas pynchon :: the crying of lot 49 :: i don't usually say i have a favourite book, but a lot of people who know me will say this is my favourite book and i do have a tattoo related to it, so it's safe to say that it's pretty high up in the pantheon. pynchon's boundless imagination always makes for a staggering read, and he always makes it seem like there is something holding all the threads together just over the horizon, but this is probably the best example of his world operating at once on levels hilarious and sinister.

umberto eco :: foucault's pendulum :: when i read "the davinci code"i immediately dubbed it "foucault's pendulum for dummies". this is the real history buff's tale of hidden codes and secret societies- in fact it deals in depth with some of the issues dan brown glazes over. because so much of the novel is so dense, it's easy to miss that much of it is dryly humourous, but it's impossible to miss the perfect human-ness of the ending, which haunts me after many years. you'll also want to check out eco's prague cemetery, which deals with the origins of many popular conspiracies.

franz kafka :: the trial :: truly, the only commentary here should be "duh". the prototype of all twentieth century angst- and paranoia-ridden classics. sure, someone probably forced you to read it in high school, but go back to it as an adult. it probably has more to share with you now.

09 October 2015

making faces :: image rehabilitation with nars

poor pasiphaë. she was a child of divinity: her father was helios, god of the sun and her mother was perse, one of the daughters of the titans oceanus and perse; her sister was circe, the enchantress who turned odysseus' men into swine; she was married to king minos of crete, himself the son of zeus and europa; she was powerful in pharmakeia, or witchcraft [also the root of a few english words, as you can probably guess], enough that when her husband proved unfaithful, she cast a spell on him that made him shoot scorpions and centipedes and wasps out his dick when he came, which is the sort of information that tends to circulate pretty quickly even in ancient crete, where weird was just what happened. but despite her illustrious lineage and enviable powers, pasiphaë is remember for only one thing: she fucked a bull.

pasiphaë did something to annoy the gods and was cursed to lust after a bull, getting so preoccupied with him that she contracted daedalus to build her a large cow outfit so that she could trick the bull into coupling with her. [i'm guessing daedalus was the sort of person who stayed alive by not asking his employers too many questions about why they needed him to build things like giant cow suits with strategic openings.] the queen of crete managed to keep her secret until nine month later when she gave birth to a bouncing baby- bovine boy. on the bottom, he was a normal human boy, but on top, he was very clearly his father's son. dubbed 'the minotaur' king minos was nice enough to build him a giant maze in which he could live and frolic and kill people, which he did until theseus of athens showed up and murdered him.

so i like to think that by naming the most exquisite part of their fall collection 'pasiphaë', nars is trying to remind us that she was regal and magical and that she had a full and fascinating life, that amount to way more than that one time she got a little carried away with a crush...

her eponymous eye shadow is one of the wet/ dry 'dual intensity' ones that nars introduced last year, but that i haven't tried until this very moment. i always thought that they looked a little on the scary side of frosty, which tends to be problematic for those of us who are a few steps beyond the first flush of youth. [although, in my defense, the skin on my eyelids has never been nice and smooth... now i'm depressed.] there's also the issue that i really don't like applying wet things to my eyes, which is why i don't tend to go for a lot of cream or liquid shadows either. that said everything is apparently becoming wet/ dry these days, so i guess i'm either going to have to get used to wetting myself [so to speak] or paying more money for a product function i don't use.

07 October 2015

world wide wednesdays :: the other african americans

during the 1960s and 70s, there was a wave of interest among young black americans in reconnecting with the african cultures from which they were descended. the civil rights era not only meant increasing freedoms to live as white americans always had and increasing participation in america's cultural life, but also a freedom to discover who they were before they were shuttled over to the united states as slaves [knowledge whites have always been able to take for granted]. interestingly, though, not all american blacks had lost touch with their culture. one group had kept close to their roots while at the same time incorporating elements of the new world and they still exist, guarding their unique culture today.

the people, called the gullah or gullah geechee, have been in the united states for hundreds of years. they were brought over as slaves from west africa, primarily sierra leone, ghana, senegal, the gambia and especially from angola. slaves from these areas were in particular demand in the coastal areas of the carolinas and georgia, because the tribes of that area had for thousands of years cultivated african rice. so the slaves who were settled in those regions were not brought in merely as cheap labour, but as experts in the cultivation and management of rice fields.

expertise wasn't all that the africans brought with them either. within a few years of their arrival, yellow fever and malaria began to run rampant. the black slaves had been exposed to these diseases before and had a certain level of immunity to them. the white landowners had never been exposed and had just barely become used to living in a subtropical climate like the low country along the atlantic coast. many grew sick and died, meaning that more and more slaves were required to manage the lucrative rice business. by 1708, south carolina had a majority black population and within the century, the coastal areas of georgia would as well.

with killer diseases on the loose, white landowners began to leave the coastal district and while they didn't abandon their land and the profits made from it, they did end up leaving the daily management of the land to the most experienced of their slaves. they were still owned, but the slaves who remained suddenly found themselves living on productive land in relative isolation from their "masters". it can't have been easy, since there were members of possibly a dozen different tribes living in the region, with the only common denominator being that they knew how to farm rice and they had been torn from their homeland and dropped in a completely different part of the world.

early photo of the gullah community
the default language was english, since all of them had had to learn at least some to communicate with the whites and with each other. but a distinct language developed, a creole or patois [called geechee] that blended english with common terms from west africa, because the people of the region had only to communicate with each other- very rarely with those from outside. likewise, the people who formed the gullah lived on fertile land for rice and had been brought there because of their knowledge about the crop, so their cuisine remained heavily influenced by their african roots rather than anything they picked up in the new world.

when the civil war broke out, the gullah lands were the first to be liberated, because when the union army arrived, there was no one there resisting their advance. instead, many of the gullah joined the army and left to fight in the war. after the war, they returned home to find that the whites that had remained had more or less gone and that other freed slaves had no interest in moving onto the gullah lands because they were no longer immune to yellow fever or malaria than the whites. so life for the gullah continued much as it had, in even greater isolation. they continued using their language and cooking their african-influenced foods, weaving baskets and cloth as their families had done in the old country, living along the coast and in the sea islands from jacksonville north carolina to jacksonville florida.

of course, people eventually did move back and in the twentieth century, many moved north as well. [although it was still relatively common for children to spend summers with their grandparents, allowing for the passing down of culture across geography and generations.] but after so long being on their own, the gullah have proven resistant to assimilation. their lands, however, are increasingly threatened.

map of gullah territories
with the malaria and the yellow fever long gone, the sea islands off the coast of georgia and the carolinas has become a hotspot for hotel developers, driving up the cost of living and pushing out people who have been there for generations. it's a common enough story in any area that has been commercialized or gentrified, but in this case, there is also a unique culture and language being threatened, one that has managed to hold on against all odds. to save their culture, the gullah geechee sea island coalition was founded in 1996 by the woman who now serves as the people's "queen quet" or head of state for the gullah geechee nation, marquetta l. goodwine. much of their battle has been to promote knowledge of the gullah not just as a historical curiosity [which is how they are usually mentioned, when they're mentioned at all], but as a living cultural group, still proudly distinct from the rest of the country.

in 2006, the gullah geechee heritage corridor [their traditional lands], a territory crossing four states and composed of 8.2 million acres, 9 complete counties and parts of 18 others, was designated  a heritage site. that helps to ensure that work is done to identify and protect areas of cultural and historical significance, but it falls short of the protections offered to areas included in the national park system. it's a limited victory, but an important one for the nation. in 2013, the won a different sort of victory when gullah candice glover won american idol and called attention to her heritage.

in 2015, however, there was a shock to the community when white supremacist dylann roof killed nine african americans at the emanuel african methodist church. while not specifically a gullah institution, the two hundred year old church is located in the heart of the gullah land and clementa pinckney, the state senator who was among the dead, had been a public proponent of the importance of gullah culture. people who survived slavery, disease, hurricanes and crop failures have found that their existence is under constant and sometimes violent threat from the people who descended on the lands where the gullah had lived since the seventeenth century.

the continued survival of the unique gullah culture is certainly at risk from the hegemony of the nation that surrounds them. like other linguistic, racial and religious minorities, remaining different is far more work than simply moving along with "progress". but having resisted thus far, you have to think that the gullah will never go quietly into that good night.

the queen quet surveys her land
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