29 February 2016

mental health mondays :: the long and the short of it

welcome, everyone, to week two of our look at post-traumatic stress disorder. last week, i posted an older piece i'd written about the condition by way of introduction. this week, i wanted to look at the peculiarities of the two broad types of ptsd. as i mentioned, there is a school of thought that believes that these two should be treated as separate but related conditions, because, while both are the result of trauma, their effect on the individual and their outward appearances are often quite different from one another.

the first, and most clear-cut type of ptsd is what used to be known as "shell shock", first observed as a clinical condition among soldiers who had fought in world war i. in this form, ptsd is a response to a potentially life-threatening situation, or that at least carried the threat of grievous and imminent bodily harm. there are a number of ways in which the condition can manifest after the victim is returned to normal life, but there is frequently stress associated with the memory of the event or events in question. the trope is of the war veteran who becomes dissociative and believes he is back in the jungles of vietnam and who can return to normal with no recollection whatsoever of what they've done while in this fugue state.

however, that sort of reaction is incredibly rare. most of the time, the person is well aware that they are haunted by the incident or time in question, they just might not realise that it is having a profound effect on who they are. or they might, but it's left them so shattered that they can't muster up the will to care what it's doing to them.

chances are that this sort of ptsd is marked by intrusive memories of the stressful incident- which can be combat, but can also be things such as rape, being attacked or robbed, being in a serious accident, etc. the sufferer may develop habits of avoidance, going out of their way not to see, hear or do things that remind them of what they've been through. someone who cheated death in a car crash might refuse to get in a car. a rape victim might go to some lengths to avoid the area where the crime occurred. this is something that happens to all of us to some degree, but in the traumatised person, these reactions become acute.

this sort of ptsd is generally something experienced by adults. that's not to say that children cannot go through these sorts of things, because they absolutely do, but their experiences can hover between the first and second subtypes of ptsd. the sufferer is usually able to put their trauma into some sort of context, but may be unable to appreciate the power it holds over their lives.

the second type of ptsd is that which is observed in children who have undergone abuse. given their age and level of development, children who are physically, sexually or emotionally abused aren't necessarily able to distinguish that what is happening to them is traumatic. they may know that it hurts or terrifies them, but they don't know that it isn't normal, or that they aren't to blame. most often, those inflicting the trauma are the ones who would normally be expected to provide context that would allow the child to process the trauma [which wouldn't necessarily prevent them from shifting from the second subtype into the first].

one of the chief differences between the forms of ptsd is the method that the victim deals with them: adult/ acute trauma sufferers tend to adopt strategies of avoidance; they stay away from things that trigger memories, even when those things make their lives incredibly inconvenient, or they avoid discussing the problem in the hopes that it will make it go away, or to deny its importance. sustained/ chronic trauma sufferers are more likely to accept what is happening to them because chances are that they can't avoid it. instead, they find ways to adapt to having the trauma in their lives: becoming exceptionally quiet or withdrawn, becoming violent themselves, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol, or developing dissociative disorders. it can be more complicated to address the effects of trauma in this case, because the trauma itself might be well hidden, even from the sufferer. [as we saw in a mhm post back in december, the symptoms might not even be psychological. children who suffer trauma have to deal with the release of an ocean of unhealthy inflammatory substances that actually damage their physical development.]

along both of these things fall under the umbrella of ptsd, there are increasingly questions about whether or not they're the same thing in terms of how they should be treated, particularly when it comes to medication. sharp force trauma and a third degree burn are both grievous injuries, but only one of them should be stitched up. we're limited by the fact that we are still very much in the leading-up-to-the-first-date stage of our relationship with the human brain and because we're still living in pretty much the first generation to be able to discuss mental illness with any kind of openness.

if you think that you might be suffering from ptsd, there are several very good questionnaires here that might help. these are clinical tests, but in order to make a diagnosis, they need to be administered by a qualified professional. that said, there's no reason you can't take the quizzes and then bring them to your doctor if you think there's a problem.

there is one more part of this post-traumatic mini-series to come, which relates specifically to childhood trauma: the twin phenomena of amnesia and recovered memory. that'll have to wait for next week, though...

making faces :: so you look like s**t

yes, folks here with me in the northern hemisphere, it is that time of year. as winter creeps with agonizing pace towards spring, skin tones- all of them- are at their dullest and flattest. the combination of cold wind, indoor heating and extremely limited sunlight leaves us all a rather dusty version of our usual selves. and that's assuming that you get enough sleep and eat well, whic, let's face it, most of us don't all the time.

so that means that we can take solace in the fact that we probably don't look comparatively worse than anyone else, but it makes it hard to feel motivated to come out of your little mole hole to see the other animals. 

with my pasty skin, i've learned a few tricks that can help me keep mother nature at a discrete distance and make myself a little happier with the grumpy face that greets me in the mirror. the easiest trying to keep in mind is to keep hydrated. nothing robs skin of its vitality and causes more problems than not getting enough water into your skin cells. and just to make sure that you have problems with hydration, winter does everything it can in order to rob you of it. this whole season is siphoning water from you like it's something it can sell on the black market. so the first thing you can do is drink all the water you see. drink things that are like water, but not coffee or alcohol, because those actually work against you. [ok, let me be more helpful: when you do drink coffee or alcohol, or coffee and alcohol, just consume even more water to offset the dehydrating effects.]

you can offset the lack of vitamin d by taking a supplement, which is actually good for many things. same goes for omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins a, c and e and zinc. however, it's always better to get whatever you can from food, since our bodies are built to process nutrients from those sources. [vitamin d, though, only comes in foods to which it's been added, which is pretty much the same thing as taking it as a supplement.]

"i have some dry patches"
i'm constantly going on about the need for exfoliation and since all bodily processes tend to get sluggish in the winter, it's a good idea to give nature a helping hand. using a chemical exfoliant [an aha like glycolic acid] is a lot easier on your skin than a mechanical exfoliant [something with rough particles], which can leave micro-tears in the surface of the skin. that said, i have become quite enamoured with laneige multi cleanser. 

the other trick to hydration, of course, is moisturizing. remember that hydration is about water, not oil, so you need to take care of this even if your skin runs oily. don't worry, there are lots of products appropriate to all skin types, but some of my favourites [for my mixed complexion] are korres wild rose 24 hour moisturizer and skyn iceland oxygen infusion night cream. i also like laneige water sleeping mask used about twice a week and, for stubborn dry spots [next to my nose], caudalie vinosource intense moisture rescue cream. and since eyes are a problem area for me, i also have a couple of favourites there: farmacy eye dew cream and skyn iceland's icelandic relief eye pen [an awesome solution for making eyes look brighter and more awake]. 

but sometimes, all the care in the world isn't going to get you where you want to be, which is where hourglass has stepped up to help. on the heels of their highly successful ambient lighting powders and ambient lighting blushes, hourglass has started 2016 with ambient strombe lighting powder. "strobing" might sound a little too studio 54 for most people, but it's actually just the new, hip term for highlighting, which could make you wonder just how these strobing powders are different from the original ambient lighting powders, since those function as highlighters as well.

i picked up one of the four freshly launched shades, "incandescent" [which was included as a limited "sneak preview" in the holiday ambient lighting edit palette], so that i could check the differences for myself. well, i swatched all of the shades and chose "incandescent" is perhaps a better way to put that. these ambient strobing powders are heavier on the shimmer than their ambient lighting forebears. some have more shimmer than others, but even the most dazzling of the original powders ["luminous light" to my eye] is more subdued than the least shimmery of the strobing powders. that said, the two formulas are more variations on a theme than completely different products.

shimmery highlighters can have a tendency to emphasize pores, which is a definite no-no for me, but these ones are very finely milled. that means that the powder applies more smoothly and you aren't left with flaky sparkles that get snagged in pores. this is the sort of refinement i've come to expect from hourglass and they do not disappoint. 

although they have shimmer, these aren't going to give you the high-wattage metallic effect you might get from some highlighters. if that's what you're after, you'd be better off looking at becca's shimmering skin perfectors. the hourglass strobing powders give you glow, but there's still a subtlety to them. 

"incandescent" is a peachy shade with a cool pink iridescence. it's a perfect shade for cooler skin tones. it has enough beige [rather than white] in the base that it doesn't run the risk of turning ashy or making you look a little sickly from being too cool to be alive. dead is not a good look.

incandescent ambient strobing powder
charlotte tilbury "film star glow" is warmer and more golden. guerlain "cruel gardenia" is an example of a much higher-shine highlighter with a similar [but darker and pinker] colour.

l to r :: guerlain cruel gardenia [l.e.], incandescent, charlotte tilbury film star glow

so what does all this amount to for winter skin? it definitely makes you look livelier, fresher and less like you've been living in a hell of nature's creation for several months. here's what it did for mine...

highlighters can be sort of tricky to photograph, but believe me, these photos would look flat-out scary if there wasn't something brightening my cheeks.




the look itself is pretty simple and includes shades from the urban decay naked 3 palette [strange, dust, burnout and limit] with illamasqua precision ink eyeliner in "havoc" [a gorgeous plum] and marc jacobs velvet noir major volume mascara [another new product for spring!]. the blush is marc jacobs as well- tantalizing, from the permanent collection- which i thought made a nice colour contrast with the highlighter. i concentrated the blush on the outer part of the cheeks and the highlighter more towards the centre. the lipstick is nars charlotte.

so what say you? have i successfully hidden my fatigue? i guess that's kind of difficult, see as you haven't seen my "before" face, but i don't want to give you nightmares. all the moisturising and skin care haven't completely helped cure the dry patches around my nostrils [time to call in caudalie!], nor can it do much about the fact that i still haven't quite learned not to play with the cats by using my face.

i strongly suspect that more of the ambient strobing powders will find their way home with me [i do so hate to have one get lonely], because the winter is long and i'll take whatever cheats i can get to convince the rest of the world and myself, that i'm much perkier and fresher than i actually am.

25 February 2016

my little secrets

earlier today, i responded to a tweet-buddy [i don't even know what you call people with whom you interact on twitter, so that's what i'm sticking with] who asked followers to name an album that they loved but that no one else seemed to know about.

you'd think, given my interest in music that people usually assume is some sort of malfunction, that this wouldn't be difficult for me to do, but most of the people i know are ones i've connected with in some way or another because of music, which means that there's a pretty significant overlap happening at all times with at least some of them. nonetheless, there are a few albums that have stuck with me that no one seems to recall. either the bands were never able to reach that great and audience, or the earlier or later material was much better known, or they simply didn't stick around long enough to make a solid impression.

as more music gets released all the time, the dangers of missing out- of everyone missing out- on a good thing becomes far higher. i check in on bandcamp and soundcloud more or less daily, and i regularly get music to review. all that has done is make me acutely aware that there is a mountain of music that i'm missing. without that, i'd still be missing lots of stuff, but i wouldn't really be aware of it. and that's just new stuff. there's thousands of hours of music that i'd probably love, except that it no longer exists, or at least is no longer accessible.

so, with all that in mind, i thought i'd share a few things that have been close to my heart but far from the spotlight, even the teensy spotlight that shines on the genres of music that i follow.

click click :: bent massive

i've always had a love for the music released in the late eighties by play it again sam records, but this will always have a special place in my heart. neon judgment had more dancefloor appeal and meat beat manifesto were more raucous, but this album has a kind of film noir appeal- halfway between art and pulp. fun fact: it was the song "yes" that originally made me watch the film onibaba, which has since become one of my all-time favourites. members of the band are still active and much of their back catalogue is available through their bandcamp site.



hula :: 1000 hours

of roughly the same vintage as bent massive, but from a slightly different part of the forest. there's a jazziness to a lot of the material on this album that would normally put me off, but somehow, i can't get enough of it. impossible to get for years because it was released on the ill-fated cherry red records, i was lucky enough work at a radio station that had a copy. good news is that it's now available as a digital download through itunes. go figure.



mandible chatter :: hair hair lock and lore

the mid-nineties seemed to see a blossoming of ambient music in the united states, particularly in the southwest. groups like life garden and voice of eye developed more of a following, but i always saw this group as the hovering on the edge of that scene, weaving in some of the same psychedelic-sounding elements, but remaining a little more remote. i can't believe fans of zoviet france weren't all over this, but since it was released on the band's own label and received only limited distribution, i guess that they never heard it.



triage :: the cessation of spoil

although both of the people behind this project- chet scott [ruhr hunter, blood of the black owl, etc.] and scott candey [gruntsplatter, blunt force trauma, umbra, etc.]- are well enough known in dark ambient circles, this album seemed to slip right under the radar. maybe it got lost in the shuffle of both artists releasing quite a bit of material around the same time [including a split album under their better-known artist names]. maybe people didn't realise who was involved. or maybe its darkness was a little too subtle, while its ambience was a little too ominous. nevertheless, it's a wonderfully tense, creepy album. the first time i listened to it, i had vivid nightmares. still to be found in the backrooms of some distributors.

sad picture is sad it is not a video

perverse teens :: spirit of '78

a one-off romp from two members of the power electronics outfit ppf [propagande par le fait] that channels early cabaret voltaire, offbeat electro acts like crash course in science, and a healthy dose of french punk. this album has been a staple on my dj playlists for years and i've been asked about it more than anything else i play. there are obviously some difficulties involved in doing an internet search for the band, but the reward is that this release is obscure enough that a number of distributors still have copies.



pimentola :: misantropolis

when i responded to the tweet i mentioned at the beginning of this post, this was the album i named. finnish group pimentola released their first album in 2000, followed by a few compilation appearances and 7" releases, none of which seemed particularly exceptional within martial industrial/ neoclassical industrial circles. then one of the band members left, and the one who remained reinvented the act, giving it a strange and  wondrous new sound and getting signed to genre heavyweights cold meat industry in the process. misantropolis is the one and only album that came out of this new incarnation and to this day, i struggle to think of anything that really sounds like it. [extra points for its brilliant artwork, pictured at the top of this post, and the sharp humour evident in titles like "psychopompous".] harder to find since cmi closed up shop.



this could keep going for a while, but, like a good bartender, i'm going to cut myself off before i get all rambling are start to make people want to avoid coming near me. because seriously, that's where this is heading.

22 February 2016

mental health mondays [rewind] :: aftershocks

this is a repeat of a post from 2014, which is kind of lazy, but it also ties into a larger plan i had to do a couple of posts on post-traumatic stress disorder. this is a condition that is becoming increasingly [and disturbingly] widespread and yet our understanding of it hasn't progressed at the same pace.

i had started to write an introductory post about this when i realised that some of it sounded familiar. it turns out that i already had a perfectly good introduction to the subject written. i'll be returning to ptsd next week, but in the meantime, here's a look at the basics.

*

although i read up a lot on mental health issues, i have to admit that one that i've studied very little is post-traumatic stress disorder, or ptsd. there's no particular reason for the avoidance, although i suppose it's partially because the term is quite self-explanatory. it falls within the anxiety spectrum and is the result of an event that caused a fear of imminent death or harm to oneself or others. but i thought that i would write something on it this week after a preliminary investigation turned up an absolutely horrifying statistic from the canadian mental health association: ptsd is believed to affect 1 in 10 people and is one of the most common forms of mental disorder.

i beg your pardon cmha???

perhaps i'm the only person to think this way, but that ratio seems unacceptably high. how many of you know ten people? statistically, it is likely that at least one of them have suffered from ptsd at some point in their lives. that's not just a matter of having gone through an acutely stressful event, that means the person has experienced something so stressful that it has changed how their brain processes information, which is pretty scary if you think about it.

although the condition may have been noticed as far back as shakespeare's time, it was really only with the "total wars" of the twentieth century that doctors became aware of the effects of stressors [the name given to traumatic trigger events] on the human brain. after world war one, many soldiers started to return home with profound mental problems, even if they had no evident physical injuries. in fact, it is largely because of wars that we understand anything about post-traumatic stress disorder at all is because of wars. much of the research that psychiatrists rely on even today was conducted on vietnam veterans in the 1970s.

since then, of course, it's been discovered that ptsd is not unique to those who have been through wars. it can be caused by rape or other violent assaults. it can be caused by witnessing violence. it can be caused by early childhood events, although there is a separate category for ptsd resulting from events that occur before the age of six.

19 February 2016

red flags

REDRUM! REDRUM!
the day of the last republican debate, i had to go to the pharmacy to fill one of my prescriptions. i took the medicine shortly afterward and settled in to observe the proceedings. about twenty minutes later, i was about to call the pharmacy and demand to know what prohibited substance they'd actually given me, because i was pretty certain i was tripping balls. 

donald trump was hollering about how george w. bush bore responsibility for 9/11. ted cruz was talking in spanish. marco rubio seemed to have consumed a dangerous number of red bulls before joining his compatriots on stage and john kasich was standing there imploring everyone to get along, sounding a lot like that poor substitute teacher with chalk stains on his pockets and sweaty spots on his shirt who you probably had in junior high school. i'm not sure at what point things went from their usual "ha ha" crazy to "these people need help" crazy. it might have been when the moderator told them he was going to "turn this car around", which i wish he'd followed with "and then no one gets to go to the white house". 

i mean, i'd be somewhat shocked if any of these people gets to go to the white house without a visitor's pass at any point in the near future and the establishment of the republican party has to be wondering where they went wrong. i mean, there were signs of an insurrection against the party annointed four years ago, but they managed to contain it [even though it went on a mad tear through states all across the south that seemed to catch everyone a little off guard]. this time, the safe, dull expected candidate is wallowing in the single digit mire, fighting off candidates like the governor who decided to implement obamacare and the former surgeon who brags about almost attacking his mother with a hammer. 

of course, since the debate, poll-leader trump has had a very public fight with the pope, who said that if trump is serious about his wall-building and refugee-banning ways, then he was no christian. trump responded by saying that the pope was in no position to question anyone's faith, which makes me think that he still hasn't gotten this whole christian thing figured out, because technically, the pope is the only person allowed to question anyone's faith in an official capacity. #teampope

trump has also served a cease and desist order to ted cruz for airing an ad in south carolina that features trump speaking out in favour of a woman's right to choose. i'm not sure what he hopes to gain from this, because it's not like he can claim defamation. he's being quoted verbatim in the ad and i rather doubt that any court in america wants to establish a precedent that saying someone is pro-choice is defamatory. 

of course, cruz has his own problems, what with some dirty tricks showing up in his campaign and a group now suing [what a litigious bunch!] on the grounds that he's ineligible to run for president, being canadian. i have to at least give a sliver of credit that the party isn't being hypocritical; they're indulging in the insane birtherism that they did with obama, perhaps even more so. [that doesn't mean, however, that the obama birther conspiracies weren't racist baloney.]

i have to admit that in the midst of trump's apoplectic anti-bush speech at the debate, i genuinely thought we might see him whip open the curtain and tell everyone that his candidacy was an elaborate practical joke. you know it's coming. 

tomorrow night, the republican candidates line up in south carolina, for the first showdown south of the mason-dixon line. a recent poll indicates that voters there [or a significant portion of republican ones] think that it sucks that they lost the civil war, that all mosques should be shut down and that the united states should ban gays and lesbians, not just muslims. although his bush-whacking in the last debate have cost trump some support, his lead in the polls there is so massive that it would take a miracle to overcome him. then again, ted cruz's father says that ted is anointed by god to become president and there was that little run in with god's representative on earth that we discussed earlier. anti-trump miracles may be in the celestial cards. 

here are my words of not-terribly-well-intended advice: 

jeb! bush :: everyone was really proud of your last debate performance, but mostly because your wealthy donors booed donald trump. seeing you last night on the cnn town hall, it occurred to me that you are, in fact, less capable of thinking on your feet than your brother. yikes. 

ben carson :: hey, you're still here... well, somebody has to come last

ted cruz :: the more people talk about the kind of stunts your campaign is pulling, the more evil it makes you look. you're probably going to do really well. 

john kasich :: i just wanted to tell you that you killed it on your town hall last night. i wanted to tell you because no one else is going to, they're all much too absorbed in what trump said, which wasn't much of substance. if i was going to like one republican candidate this cycle, it would be you. [to give you an idea of what that means, i said the same thing about jon huntsman in 2008.] you're fighting jeb! bush tooth and nail to come in fourth in south carolina. good luck with that.

marco rubio :: welcome back. your debate gaffe seems to have been forgotten after your so very wide awake rebound performance last week. in fact, you have been the chief beneficiary of the trump slump in the last few days, so that you're right in the thick of things with your buddy ted cruz. that said, if you plan on living longer than this primary, please switch to decaf. 

donald trump :: speaking of things that looked like they were about to have a stroke. you went from orange to red like a terrorism warning system on july 3rd. i thought we were going to get a scanners moment live on television. the booing and the polls doesn't seem to have put a dent in your confidence, though. you still cannot stop talking about how awesome everything about you is. whatever semblance of sanity was left in the republican party after 2008 is stuck to your shoe as you run headlong through the political sewer. go right ahead.

so that's it for "republican roundup" this week folks... wait, what's that you say? there's another party involved in this election? oh, yeah, them. they have a caucus on saturday too. and yeah, sanders guy has closed to within 2.5 points of the other one in nevada and within about 5.5 percentage points nationally. and one poll came out this week that actually put him ahead of the clinton lady. that happened.

but i ask you, can these democrats ever be as shamefully entertaining as the republicans?!?

besides, there's plenty of time to get all serious-like about this later in the year. for now, pass the popcorn and turn up the trump. 

17 February 2016

world wide wednesdays :: six places you must visit after you die

happily ever after
so many travel articles insist on adding the stipulation that their suggestions should be acted on "before you die". my reaction to this has generally been a sense of confusion that being alive was something that needed to be specified. going hiking in the himalayan mountains is tricky once your blood has stopped pumping, although, to be fair, the thin air is less likely to be a problem. but for years, this trope has continued, to the point where i started wondering, if there are so many lists of places to visit before you die, why aren't there parallel lists for the metabolically challenged? so to offer just a little bit of balance, i've come up with my own humble list of trips that are absolutely best taken dead.

post-life travel, of course, has some challenges. you will need a spouse, friend or family member with a good sense of humour, profound sense of humour and stunted gag reflex. on the plus side, you may be able to save a little money by having yourself checked as luggage rather than buying an additional ticket. these are details that are at the discretion of the individual traveler.

some of these excursions could get pretty expensive, but then again, so are funerals, and they don't seem nearly as fun.

sapânta, romania :: i apologise to any romanians reading this article, because i know the spelling of the town name is off, but blogger/ chrome just isn't giving me access to the characters i need to get it right.

can i have this dance for the rest of my life?
spelling aside, this tiny town in the north of the country boasts a place rightly named the "merry cemetery". in it, you'll find a treasure trove of colourful folk art telling the stories of those who lived and died in sapanta from the early part of the twentieth century. the graves were initially made by local artist ion stan patras and upon his death in 1977, he was succeeded by his protegé dumitru pop.

if you're feeling at all depressed about your recent passing, this place is pretty much certain to cheer you up with its innocent, charming artwork and on-point limericks [for those of you who read romanian] that tell the tales of the people who have lived there.

ahmedabad, india :: most restaurants get all snotty if you try to bring a corpse on the premises, like those hypocrites don't serve chopped up animal corpses every day. but you don't have to fear that sort of alive-ism at the new lucky restaurant, because they have their own corpses right on the premises to keep you company. open since the 1950s, the dining establishment was originally on the outside of the adjacent graveyard, but has since expanded so that some of the neighbours are permanent residents. to date, there have been no zombie incidents, and the restaurant owner treats his dead guests with great respect, keeping them neat and clean. we're not quite sure how this works with the health inspectors, but if they don't have an issue, there's no reason anyone else should.

don't talk too loud, you'll wake the dead
madagascar :: i haven't seen the dreamworks film of that name, but i'm pretty certain that it didn't include the tradition of famadihana or "the turning of the bones".  the malagasy people practice this in honour of their ancestors and it is considered something joyful and life-affirming. most westerners with their hangups about the body and what happens to it after you-know-what probably aren't going to feel at ease with it right away.

the tradition involves digging up the remains of one's ancestors and then dancing with them. so if you're dead already, you need not have that adolescent fear that no one will want to dance with you and that you'll feel hellishly awkward. your lifeless state pretty much guarantees you'll be the belle of the ball. you might even get someone to slow dance with you. [i actually imagine that most of the dances are pretty slow, because going all riverdance would likely result in the guests of honour quite literally falling apart.]

sagada, philippines :: big cities tend to be a little judgmental when it comes to a traveling corpse, so why not get really off the beaten track and kick up your heels in the remote town of sagada, famous for its heady rice wine, stunning mountainous landscape and hanging coffins.

hangin around
for likely two thousand years or more, tribes of the area have been mounting their dead in small wooden coffins affixed to the sides of mountains, believing that this brought loved ones closer to heaven. the coffins themselves tend to be a bit restrictive, so there is a decent chance that your traveling companion[s] will have to break your bones in order to allow you to hang out with the locals, which will leave you a little the worse for wear, but the views are pretty breathtaking [not that that's a term that applies for you any longer, but you get it].

tibet :: although you'll want to leave this to near the end of your trip, it's hard to overstate the powerful ritual of sky burial. this is a ritual whereby the body is wrapped in white cloth in the fetal position, under the watchful eyes of monks, who then carry it to the "charnel ground", where it is dismembered and laid out for the angels to claim. the angels in this case take the form of vultures and they claim the body by devouring it, but what the hell do you care? you're dead anyway, so someone might as well eat you.

it is important to note that photography is strictly forbidden during these ceremonies, as the tibetan belief is that it could interfere with the ascent of the soul. so, no matter how tempting it might be to capture the moment when you're eaten by vultures, no selfies.

space :: in theory, the angel vultures are supposed to eat all of the body, but you might want to ask your travel companion to hold back just a wee bit of you in order that you might take the ultimate post-life holiday. that's right: you're going to infinity and beyond.

i'm a rocket man
for less than the cost of a typical earthbound funeral, you can be fired off anywhere from low orbit to the gemini module [well, only some options are cheaper than a regular funeral; the gemini option costs about $60,000usd]. and you'll have awesome company! timothy leary and gene rodenberry have already taken this option, so you can spend eternity picking their incredible brains, or at least you could have if their capsule hadn't fallen out of orbit and been destroyed on reentry in 2002.

nevertheless, you have to admit that it would be pretty cool to know that your body [or whatever the vultures leave of it] could be circulating in space, creating cosmic litter for eternity. life is fleeting, but you could revel in the glory of death for all time!

so that's a quick look at just a few of the exciting destinations you should consider after you're done visiting all those places you simply must see before you die. remember: our greatest voyages must be unchained from the tyranny of breathing. the best experiences you'll ever have are probably those that will happen after you're dead, assuming that part of you is somehow around to enjoy them. live long and prosper or die young and explore; the choice is yours.

16 February 2016

making faces :: essential cargo

cargo is one of those brands that i've been meaning to explore forever, but just never get around to. it doesn't help that they're not widely available in stores here in canada, since i'm as guilty as the next person of giving into immediate temptation rather than thinking about what i'd like to get over the long term. i received a sample of their lash activator mascara in a gift bag from murale and was mightily impressed, but somehow i've just not gotten around to exploring other things.

but i finally did succumb a couple of months ago and pick up a smart little eye shadow palette called "the essentials". it's a collection of twelve neutral shades, along with a black eye liner and a dual-ended brush. although laid out a bit differently, i'd say it's about the same size as the urban decay naked palettes and is clearly aimed at the same type of consumer. it's a go-anywhere-and-everywhere kind of palette with a mix of matte and shimmer shades, the sort of thing that's perfect for traveling, aside from being sort of a morning rush no-brainer. 

there have been dozens of ersatz naked palettes in the last few years and there are brands who were making a living from them [bobbi brown, anyone?] before urban decay decided to make it a big deal to have an all-neutral eyeshadow combo. what makes this one distinct from many of the ones that i've seen is that it's, well, neutral. there are shades that lean a little cool and others that lean a little warm, but for the most part, these shades fall right in the middle of the colour temperature spectrum. since the overwhelming majority of neutral palettes lean warm, this is a welcome relief for those of us who don't.

l to r :: uptown, district, city hall
uptown :: this is a slightly-warmer-than-pure-white highlight shade with a subdued shimmer. it looks soft in swatches but appears brighter on the eye. it's not a unique shade, but it's a really nice version of a highlighter that applies well and lasts well, although it does fade after about the five or six hour mark.

district :: this is a warm-leaning shimmery peach that makes a lovely all-over lid colour. it's neutral, but a little livelier than a straight grey or beige. i like the fact that the shimmer doesn't read as very frosty. i got good wear with this one every time i tried it.

city hall :: a matte bone shade that can work as a highlight or lid colour. there's something about it that reads as a little muted, especially when compared to uptown. it's not ever going to look really bright, nor do i think it's supposed to. it's just a workhorse kind of colour that you can use on its own or to blend other colours. this one does kick up a fair amount of excess powder [which equates to wasted product] and its consistency means that it can blend out a little too easily. still a very functional shade.

l to r :: urban, rush hour, plaza
urban :: this is a really interesting shade. it's another light matte, but where "city hall" leans perhaps a little warm, this one is cooler. it's like a very light grey, with just a touch of pink to it. this one was probably the worst offender when it came to powderiness, but it applied well. it did fade faster than i would have liked and the fading robs it of its uniqueness. after a few hours, it just looks like a greyish neutral.

rush hour :: another really interesting shade, like a light terracotta with a matte finish. this one is very pigmented and was one of the best-lasting shades in the entire palette. it's probably the warmest of the colours, but it still falls squarely within neutral territory. it held together better than most of the other mattes.

plaza :: a neutral-lover's neutral, this one. it's a soft putty kind of shade that works as a lid colour or for getting that nice sculpted crease look. it's a matte shade again and while it's not as powdery as "urban", i found it a bit difficult to get it built up to what you see here. that said, once i did get it where i wanted, it lasted very well. i'd buy this shade as a contour product in a heartbeat.

l to r :: downtown, industry, metro
downtown :: this is a blue-tinged black that doesn't swatch terribly well, but applies and lasts exactly as you'd wish. it blends very well, but doesn't blend away, which can be a problem with some softer black shades. i believe this one is matte, but the blue cast makes it appear a little more like a satin, like it has a slight sheen.

industry :: a shimmery cool steel grey and the closest thing to a full-on frost that the palette has, this one looks just gorgeous when swatched, but it's unfortunately rather quick to lose its luster. within a couple of hours, it becomes a flat grey and your guess is as good as mine as to where the shimmer gets to. ironically, the base colour is tenacious, blends well and doesn't crease. it just doesn't end up resembling what it looks like in swatches or on initial application.

metro :: a soft, medium reddened-brown with copper tones and an understated shimmer, this is another one of the palette's best performers. it looks amazing with blue eyes because of the orange tones and would complement warmer complexions very well.

l to r :: brownstone, hub, facade
brownstone :: without a doubt the best matte shade in the palette. it's a deep, cool-leaning brown that applies smoothly and is extremely pigmented. it lasts well without fading. it blends easily with the other shades but holds its own with aplomb. well done, brownstone. well done.

hub :: no neutral palette is complete without a taupe shade, but i like the fact that this taupe is a little bit different. it's cool and neutral looking, but it has a copper sheen that makes it appear warmer when the light hits it. definitely one of the better performing shades here and one that can hang with either the warm or the cool shades.

facade :: urgh. that squelching sound you hear is my heart getting squished under the weight of the expectations created by swatching this colour. it reads as a dark matte grey, but when you see it separately, it's actually a very dark indigo-purple colour, a characteristic that comes out when you see it around cooler shades. it applies with such dense pigmentation that it's almost a little scary. there's no need to worry, though, because this, my friends, is the goddamned kaiser sose of eyeshadows. you look around and *poof* he's gone. if you try blending him with other shadows, he just dissipates. if you pat him in place and leave him be, he starts to fade within minutes. it's just not fair.

so as you can see, this palette is a bit of a mixed bag. i got it by redeeming some of my shoppers drug mart optimum points, meaning that it was basically gratis. at full price, it's $50cad, as compared to $67cad for the urban decay naked palettes. so it's significantly cheaper, but there are more shades that miss the mark.

and now, a word about talc: one of the reasons that these shades are powdery and blend out too easily is because the formula is talc-heavy. for me, that meant that they tended to make my eyes itch, particularly the matte shades. for some people, talc isn't an issue [it normally isn't for me], but if it is one for you, then this palette is a serious no-go.

here's a quick look at a warmer and a cooler version of looks i did with different shades:




this one includes uptown, district, city hall, rush hour, metro and brownstone [getting some company from colour pop "prance" on the lower water lines]. the lip gloss is mac "pink lemonade", worn over dior lip and cheek glow.




in this one, i'm wearing urban, plaza, industry, uptown and facade. i'm pathetically proud of the fact that you can still see some of the shimmer in "industry" and that there is a darker shade at the outer corners of my eyes, which is where i placed "facade". this is less than an hour after i did my makeup, so this is really as good as it gets.

i'm wearing guerlain jolie teint in "blond clair" on my cheeks and the lipstick is nars "angela".

there are other products from cargo that i'm interested in exploring, but for the time being, i think i'm going to limit myself to ones that i can get on sale. i don't dislike the "the essentials", it's really hard to dislike something that has so many practical shades and applications, but for the moment, i'd rather save my pennies and complete my urban decay naked collection. 

15 February 2016

paranoid theory of the week :: are african countries still paying a colonial tax to france?

that's the sort of headline that's liable to make one throw up in one's mouth a little, isn't it? i mean we all know that former colonies still pay a hefty price for colonisation, but i think we all hope that that doesn't mean a direct outflow of money to their former overlords that involves nothing in return. it's a crazy theory, right? it has to be. there's no way that... well, i figured that it warranted a look, at least.

the theory :: 
fourteen african countries, all former french colonies, continue to pay a tax to france based on fees paid during the colonial period.

the origin ::
this popped up everywhere in the last couple of weeks, but one of the original articles on it is found on the website silicon africa. i did find a slightly earlier piece here, but it doesn't have the annotations of the silicon africa article, which makes it more difficult to fact check.

the believers ::
the story seems to have been limited thus far to sites specifically dedicated to african news and culture [and to a couple of 'fringe' political sites], which means that very few people who aren't already interested in africa would have heard about the story.

the bad guys ::
france. [and more broadly, all former colonizers who continue to profit from their misdeeds.]

the evidence ::
one of the most challenging things about evaluating a case like this is that the rules of international finance seem to be constructed specifically to stop anyone from being able to hold anyone responsible for anything.

there are several points in the silicon africa article about the relationship between france and the states which were once its colonies. the question of whether or not those former colonies continue to pay taxes to the french government is point #2 of 11, so there is clearly a greater issue here than just taxes, but for now, we'll focus on that.

to start in as basic a way as we can get, let's look at this definition of a "tax", provided by dictionary.com :

noun
1. a sum of money demanded by a government for its support or for specific facilities or services, levied upon incomes, property, sales, etc.
2. a burdensome charge, obligation, duty, or demand.

what's being alleged is that that the french government is holding from 50-85% of foreign reserves of fourteen african nations, under the terms of an agreement that was reached during the transitional period between french control over these countries and independence. that might meet the second part of the definition of a tax given above, but it does not meet the first and it is that first definition that most people would understand to be a tax. while the first point in the silicon africa article does allege that there are amounts being paid to france for rental of long-term purchase agreements on the benefits of colonial rule [buildings, roads, railways, etc.], the author himself states that he hasn't been able to research this claim adequately, so we can't evaluate it here. so as far as the description of what's being done is concerned [and the title of the article], no, there is not a tax being paid.

however, the investment of billions of dollars of foreign reserves seems like it might be a little hinky, so let's take a closer look at that.

it is absolutely true that the french central bank holds foreign reserves of fourteen former african colonies. the current amount is 50%, but that has decreased steadily. it used to be 100%. that money is held at a nominal rate of interest [0.75% in 2012]. the deposit rule is a condition of using the cfa franc, a currency which is guaranteed by the french government.

the advantage to using a common currency is that it provides a certain level of stability and encourages financial investment. compare that to the situation in zimbabwe, where government corruption and financial involvement in wars in congo saw the country reach 79,000,000,000% inflation. that sort of instability makes the 2008 housing crisis look like a hiccough.

the disadvantage to using a common currency, as greece has found out in the last few years, is that it limits your flexibility to act in your own national interests. that's tricky enough in the eurozone, but the west and central african monetary union has an extra level of difficulty baked in: the cfa franc is pegged to the euro. as the euro fluctuates, the cfa franc moves right along with it, which means that monetary policy for these fourteen african countries is de facto being set by the european union. that does sound rather colonial, doesn't it?

at any given time, a country can withdraw up to 15% of its reserves from the french central bank, at which point they would be able to collect the small amount of interest due and use the money themselves. and there is no law compelling them to use the cfa franc. they're all free to use whatever currency they want, so their obligation extends only so far as their desire to have their money backed by the bank of france. [as the minimum required deposit of foreign currency with the central bank has decreased, we can assume that all of the countries involved have repatriated some of that money, but as a result, they've also lost the interest they would have gained had they invested it somewhere else. [for that matter, each of these countries could have simply broken the money up into smaller parcels, placed it in bank accounts with many different banks and made a great deal more interest than they've collected, because for the vast majority of the time this arrangement has been in existence, interest rates on deposits have been much higher than they are now.]

this is where we run headlong into the legal term "duress". let's go back to dictionary.com :

noun
1. compulsion by threat or force; coercion; constraint.
2. law. such constraint or coercion as will render void a contract or other legal act entered or performed under its influence.
3. forcible restraint, especially imprisonment.

so the question before us now is whether or not those countries using the cfa franc are doing so, or started to do so, under duress. the silicon africa article argues that france used the implied threat of force in order to coerce former colonies to join the french community in the 1950s, specifically by making an example of guinea, the one country of the group that elected not to join, but to declare outright independence. author philip muehlenbeck concurs, noting that the french police torched their barracks, scholarships awarded to guinean students were immediately revoked, the banks were simply shut down and one american reporter ended up stranded at a border crossing for two weeks because the french soldiers who manned it locked the gates and left with the keys. that all sounds more than a little punitive. [it also makes payments required from other countries look a little bit like a protection racket. "give us money or we'll burn your newborn country to the ground."]

the silicon africa author also implies that the french simply assassinated those who tried to stand up to them, starting with sylvanus olympico, the first president of togo. olympico resisted pressure from french-allied politicians within his country to allow them to run a full-fledged military and decided to withdraw from the currency union. indeed, while the circumstances may have been a little more complex on the domestic front, olympus was killed by a former french legion member who favoured a closer military alliance with france, and who himself ultimately became togo's president.

of course, it wasn't uncommon for african men to join the french military and there were plenty of african leaders who felt that remaining closely allied with france was a good idea in the early years of independence. that doesn't mean that the french government was involved in the coup in togo, or any other coups carried out by africans who had trained with the french military. no one has ever proven that. what can be said is that france had a remarkable run of good fortune when it came to who led successful coups in the fourteen west and central african countries using the cfa franc, because those leaders were most often amenable to french policy demands.

so, do these early examples constitute duress? were the first african leaders of the post-colonial era convinced that refusal to comply with french demands would result in the ruin of their country or their own deaths?

the likelihood :: 7.5/10
i'm cutting away a few points because saying that the current financial arrangement is a "tax" is an oversimplification that, ironically, serves to confuse the issue. also, the source materials grossly overstate the amount of money currently being held [and don't provide citations if the amount is supposed to reflect the total paid into the french central bank since the arrangement was first put in place]. i'm also suspicious that there are other statements in the silicon africa article that may be misleading, including the fact that the author has chosen to translate only the first half of the embedded video where former president chirac admits that france has gained much of its current wealth from exploiting africa. [he goes on to say that france must be willing to take the necessary steps to redress this, not out of a sense of generosity, but because it is the proper thing to do and the only way to prevent greater problems further on.]

but the fact is that despite those flaws in the source material, there is something highly questionable happening with france and its former west and central african colonies. the arrangement stinks like the most appalling of french cheeses left out in the african sun. there are certainly circumstances that would indicate that the participating countries were coerced into supporting policies not in their own interests when they agreed to join this union and that the threat of instability and withdrawal of foreign investment may continue to constitute a form of duress. those who continue to use the cfa franc unquestionably cede their financial autonomy to europe.

so while there isn't a colonial tax, there is most definitely still a colonial relationship.

12 February 2016

we try not to talk about uncle jack at family reunions

in case you've ever wondered, i use all lowercase letters because i find the effect more aesthetically pleasing. there's an evenness to the text that looks better than the jagged chaos caused when you start including capitals.

and if you think about it, capitalization is completely arbitrary. each language has slightly different rules for what gets capitalized and what doesn't. german insists that you capitalize every single noun. dutch used to, but realised that this was a pain and a half and got rid of it. if you ever wonder why some people think german is an ugly language, it has nothing to do with how it sounds and everything to do with the fact that it looks like it's about to poke you in the eye with its many harsh capitals.

i would also have argued that capitals don't really serve any purpose. if i say something about 'venice', is there really anyone who's going to run to the dictionary because they assume it's some word they've never seen before? no, they'll more than likely realise that i'm talking about the city. and if you want to say that it would become confusing when you were dealing with proper names that also mean something different when used as a 'regular' word, allow me to remind you that we've been using 'lead' for centuries and the language has survived. [i might also point out that 'buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo' is a grammatically correct sentence and even if you insert the capitals, there are still different meanings in the uncapitalized words.]

for all their capital letters, germans don't distinguish between saying "i eat" and "i am eating". polish doesn't even have definite and indefinite articles [the/ a]. because germans and poles are clever enough to be able to figure things out from context.

but then the poor gentleman tasked with editing the stuff i write for heathen harvest [where i do use capitals] posted this on my facebook wall this morning:


ok, maybe in this one specific instance, it might help to have access to capital letters.

or maybe, given that my family have done some pretty unsettling things, maybe i'm just happy to leave things ambiguous.

i'm still going to continue with using all lowercase letters here on more like space. but i probably won't be discussing horses. or uncle jack. let's just leave him alone. 

10 February 2016

a story of unintended unintentions

i figure i might as well share this, since it's been a while without sharing a new piece of fiction here. this isn't exactly new, but it's new-ish, which is close enough for me. it's something that i didn't intend to write, but something that just came out one time when i started typing. most of the time when i do that, i end up with some sort of strange fragment that doesn't go anywhere but which may end up being folded into a larger entity at a later date, like adding the filling to a layer cake. 

it wasn't until afterward that i realised what i wrote so unintentionally is a story about someone who gets famous for something he didn't intend to write. i didn't intend for that to happen. 

this one is tentatively named "the icon", but i'm not completely sold on that. and i feel like if i give it a permanent name, it should be something that comes to me by accident, something i never intended to be a title. that's really the only way to go with this, right? 

once again, please remember that i don't publish finished things here, so there are probably mistakes and all that crap, etc...

*

All I ever wanted was to sit in a bar and make snide remarks about everyone I saw. I wanted to be a wit, to scribble down acid phrases that burned through the paper and into readers’ minds, but I wanted to do it from the comfort of a bar stool. Not a coming of age or a reflection of days past. Not treasured, human characters to whom the masses could relate. I never wanted to be acceptable in junior high schools. I wanted people to twist their faces away with each bitter, cutting phrase and then turn back, unable to imagine what could possibly come next.

How did this happen to me? I take my place at the bar and order a gin and tonic from the bartender who smiles at me with her doe’s eyes, the bartender I’d try to fuck if I thought she’d be anything but repulsed by the wiry and watery-eyed old man who mutters his orders and nods when she brings them. She probably thinks I’m unfriendly. She probably thinks that I don’t notice her. But she might be curious about me if she knew who I am. She might ask those same dull questions all university students ask me. So I don’t talk to her, because I don’t want our perfect relationship ruined.

Every year, a few news organisations contact me for my views on something. Mostly I turn them down, or I turn up hungover and irascible and angry and they wonder why they called me in the first place.

“But he’s a Canadian icon,” a producer will whisper. “He’s eccentric, but consider who he is!”

No, bitch, who I am is the asshole being difficult in your studio. The person you’re talking about is some fiction, the same as the only book of mine you’ve read.

I sometimes pick out something from the jukebox at this place, something rowdy and angry, done by young men or mannish young women with spit and vitriol to spare. I pick things that have curse words, as clear as the speakers can make them. I hope that people know it’s me choosing those songs. I want them to see what the man who eased their passing from childhood to young adulthood has always been.

“He’s really slid,” one bright-eyed young woman said mournfully to her companion (not knowing that I could hear, of course).

No, dear, I never slid. When I was banging out the words you held in your heart, I was thinking of banging sweet young things, trying to get in the pants of the departmental secretary at Bernard & Sons manufacturing. I got fired for how little I worked, and because the secretary eventually started talking to people about how persistent I was being. I got fired and left with the book that would make me famous, something I never thought I’d write.

It’s Alasdair’s fault. He bet me I could write something nice if I tried. He thought I had it in me. Something sweet about a boy becoming an adult in the grand old days, the fifties and sixties when everything was simple. And he was right, the bastard. I wrote it for him, only man I ever loved, wrote it to prove him wrong and I failed miserably. And having seen it, having sat in our favourite watering hole and read this milksop missive in a single night, he looked up over his rimless spectacles and said, “Well Isaac, you have to send this to your agent now.”

He bought the goddamned postage, stood over me until he saw the manuscript go into the mailbox and clapped my shoulder as we walked away.

“Just you wait,” he said. “Just you wait and see.”

I honestly thought it was terrible. I meant for it to be terrible. I meant for it to be saccharine and simple and boring and it was years before Alasdair told me what had really happened: enough of me had seeped through, enough of my shadow had been cast over what I’d written, to taint the sweetness just a little, to give the silver cloud a grey lining. That was what he’d meant when he said that I could write something adorable. He meant that even trying, I couldn’t help but be who I was- who I am- and that that would make the end product too memorable to pass up.

He never begrudged me any success. He’d never wanted to be successful himself. He was happy to be the crusty old professor, writing impenetrable stuff for half a dozen academics and me. I’d scratch out something crazy, misanthropic, drug-addled and he’d nod, tell me the rawness and the rage was becoming and then remind me that no one would agree to publish it. Always right, that son of a bitch.

I shared every penny I earned from my embarrassing success with him until his heart and liver finally gave out. When the Parkinson’s got too bad for him to teach, when the drugs started carving up his brilliant mind, I paid his rent. I fed him and took him out to the pub and watched his eyes, ever glassier, flitting around the room and had the only unadulterated pleasure of my life when he would smile a little in recognition.

I wished him dead for the trick he’d played, of course, and the truth is I was killing him by letting him mix whiskey and pills, but it was a death I knew he wanted. I kept the Parkinson’s from getting him. He died in his sleep with a smile on his face, like his last dreams were beautiful things that he chose never to leave. Bastard. I’m still here, suffering success and waiting for madness to take over.

I still love you and miss you every day, old man. When I eye the bartender, I imagine we’re thinking our dirty thoughts together and chuckling in that throaty, diabolical way we developed that acknowledged we were on the same wavelength and that we might as well laugh, because nothing would ever come of those thoughts anyway, so why shouldn’t we feel entitled to think them. (And his female students, even when they were stung all over with the fever of political correctness, loved him, gave him glowing reviews, praised his sensitivity and open-mindedness, because they could see through his cantankerous exterior to what he was inside. The bile was always mine. He was the hero.)

I drink to his health and then laugh to myself about it- drinking to the health of someone who’s dead. Now that is something I should put in a story. That is something that I could get behind. Last words of a false god.
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