29 August 2016

badvertising :: in bad taste

hubert sacy, director general, educ'alcool
there are a number of reasons why people might not like to live in montreal. i personally find that good outweighs the bad, but terrifyingly cold winters, apartments that have never been properly maintained, and a bureaucracy that could generously be described as "perplexing" are likely to have worn a few people down.

but one of the great things about not living in montreal is not having to deal with the sort of people who end up in positions of power in groups like educ'alcool, an organisation that helps encourage young drinkers to favour moderation over hedonistic indulgence. the organisation has done some clever ad campaigns in years past, some genuinely funny and some cringe-worthy and effective. the thing that has made them effective is that they've presented those drink far in excess as the butt of jokes, or as a source of embarrassment for themselves and their friends.

this year, however, they decided to go in a different direction.

the horror.

on one level, i can see where teens would find this funny: what's scarier to a fresh-faced [we assume] young man than the idea of giving his phone number to an ugly old woman? but therein lies the problem: this time, it's not the drinker who's the object of ridicule, but the woman. she's clearly the focus here, since we can't even see the face of the young drinker. nor has he done anything that will ruin either his night or his life; at worst, he's looking at a few irritating phone calls as a souvenir of his night out, which are likely to be a source of laughs for him and his friends. he's not the pathetic one in this situation. that distinction is for the sad old woman, desperately trying to pretend that she's still a young fox and to make up for her obvious shortcomings with inappropriately tight clothes and garish makeup.

a montreal professor of communications wrote to the organisation to educ'alcool to make them aware that the ad reeked of sexism and ageism. this is the response he got from them:

Dear Sir: Thank you for your so courteous email and for your interest in Éduc'alcool.
As a Professor of Communications, you are certainly aware of a few principles and will certainly sensitive to a few facts.
Here are the hard facts:
1) This campaign has been tested in four focus groups 2 of young men and 2 of young women from the target group. It has ranked over 9/10 and no one ever saw any "ageism" nor any "sexism" in it. Moreover all (with no exception) considered it was a humouristic and very efficient way to denounce excessive drinking without being moralistic.
2) Besides, this campaign is a remake of the one we did several years ago in all Cegeps and universities in Quebec. Tens of thousands of students has seen it. The evaluation of all establishment was crystal-clear. All ranked it very high and no one has seen any trace of ageism or sexism. That's in real life.
3) Unless we are mistaken, you are not exactly in the target group of this campaign
4) We also adapted this same campaign for the public at large. Posters were posted in all SAQ 410 stores all over the province for six weeks. A couple of miullion people have seen it. Not one single person said it was ageism or sexism
5) Since we launched this campaign a few days ago we only received one critic and loads of congratulations.
And now let's ask ourselves a few questions:
Could it be that some people don't make a difference between a caricature and first-degree interpretation?
Could it be that some people can't see that the situations are so exagerated that it's obviously not serious and it's only humour?
Could it be the ageism and sexism would be in the eye of the person who looks at the campaigm and not in the campaign itself?
Than you again for your comments and kindest regards
Hubert Sacy, C.M., C.Q.
Directeur général
Éduc'alcool
606, rue Cathcart, bureau 1000
Montréal, Québec H3B 1K9
Téléphone: 514 787-5830
www.educalcool.qc.ca
Et rappelez-vous, la modération a bien meilleur goût

the ad itself is irritating. it reinforces a lot of popular, mean-spirited ideas about women, especially older women. the joke is that the woman [again, the one who is clearly the focus of the ad] is gross because she is aging, but still trying to be sexy like younger women are sexy. she's repulsive because she can't just accept that she's past her prime and has no business chatting up young men in bars. if this is such a disaster, it's because those ideas are right and because the fault for the woman's obvious unattractiveness lies with her alone, and not a culture that tells them they are valueless after a certain age, or that the only way to be sexy is to try, increasingly desperately, to appear young.

but you know what? i see ads that reinforce those messages every day. so do all of us. i don't like them and they make me lose respect for the company responsible, and they don't keep me up at night.

hubert sacy's response had me grinding my teeth while I tried to sleep. it's rude, condescending and ignorant, three things that i despise in human beings at the best of times, and something that should be unacceptable in someone presenting himself as a spokesperson for a government-supported organisation. [educ'alcool does not get government funding, however it does have a partnership with several government departments. [think of nbc's decision to cut ties with donald trump over his incendiary comments about mexicans and immigrants; corporately, perhaps even more than personally, we are judged by the company we keep.]

sacy's argument clearly rests on two things: he himself does not believe that there is any reasonable grounds to believe the ad is sexist or ageist; no one else has expressed any concern over the ad, especially within its target group.

the first point is clearly ridiculous: the ad would not be funny if the woman did not appear old, ugly and unattractive. that is the joke. she clearly fulfills stereotypes of the "cougar", right down to her too-tight animal print top. she is a recognizable caricature [sacy says so himself]. that's the joke. it's too easy for a young man to be ensnared by this sort of woman.

the second part is an obvious dodge. witness my statement above. i'm a feminist and someone who is far more attentive to communications of all types than the average. i'm someone who's worked in advertising and communications for many years. but if i complained every time i saw something offensive in an advertisement, i'd have time for little else, including sleep. yes, there are examples of ads that set off a widespread public reaction [witness bud light's "no means up for whatever"], but those are generally larger scale campaigns, with big brands associated with them, so that it's easier to mobilise public opinion online. the educ'alcool ad reaches a market of, at maximum, seven million people in one province of canada. harder to kickstart something. the vast majority of people who see the ad as dumb or offensive will simply roll their eyes and move on with their day. which is fine with hubert sacy, since we're all too old for our opinions to count.

the fact that the ad played well for 18-22 year olds of both genders isn't evidence of anything except that the tropes it exploits are so ingrained, so common, that young men and women just accept them as normal. men are socialised to think that giving their phone number to an older woman trying to act young, or a woman who is both old and ugly is among the worst things that could happen to them. young women are socialised to think that turning into that woman is something they need to fear.

but even if they'd chosen to run the ad- after all, it's funny, and educ'alcool, as an organisation targeting young people, shouldn't feel any responsibility to come up with ideas that are new, fresh, or challenging- i think that sacy and co. missed an opportunity to run a parallel campaign. after all, binge drinking isn't just a problem among young men, but among young women. and clearly, from their selection of target groups, young women are an equal part of the target audience for this ad. so why not create an ad that speaks to them as well?

the "creepy old man" stereotype is almost as prevalent as the "pathetic old lady". after all, between 1,700 and 1,800 cases of sexual assault were reported in quebec in 2008 [92% of whom were women] and it's estimated that only 10% of sexual assault are actually reported to police. the group most likely to be targeted for sexual assault are those between 18-25, which is absolutely the target market of educ'alcool. i think that most people would feel that getting raped is as serious [possibly more!] than giving your phone number to an ugly old woman.

but, even better, i think monsieur sacy, who clearly thinks very highly of himself, since he's able to lecture a university professor who specialises in the subject about what ads actually mean, missed the opportunity to get his face out there, to become a real star. after all, he's old, bald and ugly. what could be more in keeping with the parallel caricature to the woman in the ad that was created?

and so, i present to you, the more like space vision for the "flip side" ad campaign for educ'alcool:

presto.
as the organisation itself says; "moderation is always in good taste" and moderation means maintaining an equilibrium, or balance. so go ahead, m. sacy, and run your hilariously funny ad about giving an ugly old broad your phone number. but moderate that by admitting that young women might run into problems with creepy old people as well? i give you [and dominic, who created the visual gives you] full rights to use this image for ads placed in stores, in newspapers, in magazines and online. we won't even ask you to give us credit, because it would make us that damn happy that you thought to use this ad. [of course, if you'd like to throw some coins our way, say, the same amount you paid the agency who came up with that first ad, we're not going to say no.] the best thing we can do as old, increasingly irrelevant people, is to lead the youth by example. and if you don't want to set the example of refusing to fall back on sexist, ageist, insulting gimmicks, then i think the least you can do is really put yourself out there to remind others of the potential dangers of binge drinking. 

26 August 2016

making faces :: choose your lips [2016 edition]

i'm a big lipstick fan, but even i'm at the point of waving the white flag in the face of the army of lipsticks that's been marching towards us in the last several months. nars was ahead of the curve with their audacious lipstick formula, introducing a shocking thirty shades at once. givenchy and dior seem to be introducing a new formula every other week [the rouge dior family is getting revamped this fall]. mac added a large number of new shades this summer, including some of those coveted "oddball" colours. bite discontinued their luminous cream formula and replaced it with the brand new amuse bouche lipsticks in thirty-four colours [take that, nars!] earlier this year, and has already introduced a half dozen new shades [a couple of them limited], plus two online exclusives. makeup forever has just revamped their entire artist rouge lipstick line. not to be outdone by anyone [and no one should try], urban decay reformulated and re-launched their lipsticks in 120 different shades [20 exclusive to sephora and 20 exclusive to other retailers, which in canada means the u.d. website. so no one has more than 100 shades.]

as you have probably deduced, i am a lipstick lover. i mean, other women enjoy lipstick. they like having a variety of colours to suit different circumstances or moods. i, however, am in a long-term, committed relationship with lipstick. to the point where i talk about lipstick in public, which isn't something most of my friends do. back in 2011, i made a list of recommendations about who had the best selection among each colour group, but that was eons ago in makeup terms, and almost every single collection has changed over at least once since then. in addition, i've explored a lot more brands, so i'm more informed than i was then. [i'm also more responsible about not taking photos in low light.]

since that post continues to get hits almost daily, i feel it behooves me to do an update that reflects what's actually on the market right now.

i don't really have a scoring system, per se, but when i'm talking about who does certain colours best, i'm taking into account the range of colours available, the range of finishes/ formulas available, the originality of those colours and the quality of the formula[s]. clearly, those criteria favour brands who have a lot of colours; rouge bunny rouge with a dozen colours spread across two formulas cannot compete with urban decay's one hundred. but i have tried to make a note of it where i think a brand with a narrower selection has covered a lot of potential territory with relatively few choices.

i've added a separate category for "berry" lipsticks, whereas i had earlier just lumped them in with reds or pinks or purples. and, because there is a sudden resurgence of interest in strange and unusual colours, i've added an "oddball" category. there isn't a lot of competition here just yet, but it's coming.

and now... the lips!


21 August 2016

so hip it hurts

there aren't too many artists who stand out as being iconically canadian. it's too easy to mistake us for some other people, mostly americans, who are, let's be honest, pretty similar in a lot of ways. [this is the bit where i apologise for avril lavigne, justin bieber and drake.] the guess who/ bachman turner overdrive held sway over an earlier generation, and musicians and those who appreciate technical proficiency will speak of rush like they are gods, but last night the country said goodbye to perhaps the most canadian of canadian bands, the tragically hip.

for those of you not familiar with that name, the hip emerged in the mid-to-late eighties, among a slew of canadian bands [54-40, the northern pikes, the pursuit of happiness, the grapes of wrath] that balanced on the line between mainstream and alternative rock. all of them played accessible guitar-based music with none of the bombast of seventies dinosaurs, but equally with no hint of the drug-fueled anger that would explode in the early nineties. crtc regulations required broadcasters to air a minimum of 30% canadian content during music programming, which meant that it wasn't as difficult for these bands to reach the same audiences that listened to madonna or the rolling stones as it might have been in other countries. that sounds like i'm implying that they didn't have the talent to cut it without the support, which isn't exactly true. i think it was true for some of them and there was a certain bland sameness to those acts, with their headier-than-normal-pop lyrics, glum expressions and defiantly ordinary looks. most of them were popular for a time, but then faded from view, aside from the odd reunion show. except the tragically hip.

while musically, they might have slotted into the same space as their compatriots, they showed an uncanny ability to come up with hits, things that would get stuck in your head, even if all you heard was a snippet of a guitar hook or a chorus drifting out of a car window. it probably didn't hurt that they bore a certain resemblance to one r.e.m., with a more bluesy bent, a resemblance that was most noticeable in the voices of front men michael stipe and gord downie.

earlier this year, downie revealed that he had been diagnosed with a deadly form of brain cancer; doctors had tried what they could, but had ultimately discovered that they could do nothing. downie knew that death was coming for him sooner rather than later, but instead of bowing out and spending his last days in quiet and as much comfort as medicine could give him, downie decided to hit the road for a few dates in canada, culminating in a performance in their home town of kingston ontario. you could almost feel the lump forming in the national throat even thinking about it.

last night, the tragically hip took the stage for the final time. our national broadcaster, the cbc, simulcast the show everywhere in the country, free of any advertising, on television, online and on public screens in many cities. the new yorker, the washington post and the guardian all covered it [although the french montreal press did not, and the only screening here was in the traditionally english enclave of notre-dame-de-grâce] and for a few hours, it did rather seem like the country ground to a halt.

i hadn't intended to watch, although i did intend to glance in to see what was happening. i was prepared for the fact that he would be frail and a little unnerving to see, in the way that people close to death often are for those of us who haven't been there yet. i was prepared for the fact that he wouldn't have quite the same power behind his distinctive voice as he once did. and i was prepared for the fact that there would be a sad spectre hanging over the entire night, no matter how positive the band tried to appear.

what i was not prepared for was my own reaction. within seconds, water was getting squished out of me every time i blinked, like i'd been transformed into some kind of neglected kitchen sponge. this was a shock because i haven't been a crier in many years, so for me, even feeling the sting of tears in my eyes was abnormal. but it was a shock mostly because i don't even like the tragically hip. even when they first appeared, they were the sort of thing that i could take or leave. i knew their hits, especially the ones from earlier in their career, but nothing they'd done had ever really moved me. yet there i was, dribbling out my eye-holes [as a canadian, i lack both the american capacity to embrace my emotions and let them all out, or the british one to repress them entirely], with no idea why.

rationally, i know that, having a partner/ husband who has become increasingly sick and disabled over the last several years has given me an incredible respect for those who insist on fighting their genetic lot with everything they have. i have some idea of the strength that kind of fight takes, just enough to feel overwhelmed by the thought of how much strength it would take to do it and know in advance that you were going to lose. downie's snappy sartorial choices could not hide the fact that chemotherapy had left him a virtual skeleton and robbed him of his hair, and his left temple had a dent, like someone had scooped part of his skull out with a melon-baller, a souvenir from unsuccessful surgery. presented with that kind of willpower, no one can help but ask themselves: could i do the same? and the fact is that we're all hoping we never have to answer the question.

and as the show progressed and downie got somehow stronger as he performed, the writer part of me felt a shaken as well. i'd always known that downie was a strong lyricist. it's hard to get respected for your lyric-writing in canada, because the bar was set by leonard cohen. and when you're playing popular music, people have a tendency to hear lyrics without really processing them. this was the first time i'd ever heard so many of their songs together, and i was a little ashamed that i'd never realised what a very good writer he was.

but that still didn't explain why i so immediately got upset, and while i continued this undignified drizzle of tears all night- beyond the end of the show and into a tremendously inconvenient bout of insomnia.

in a lot of ways, the tragically hip are the ultimate canadian band: they have enough muscle in their sound to satisfy fans of classic rock [of which canada has more per capita, i'll wager, than anywhere else on earth], but enough restraint and cerebral content to appeal to fans raised on a steady diet of cynicism and irony. [that would be me and most of my friends.] a still younger generation has grown up hearing their music as the soundtrack of their parents youth, the backdrop to the awkward conversation about how it's ok to smoke pot because mom and dad originally met because of someone passing around a joint at a tragically hip show.

america's soul lies with prince, the brilliant over-achiever, the mix of urbanity and soul, the insistence on maintaining control in order to realise some impossibly great dream, ultimately doomed to implosion. and no one could capture modern england like david bowie, mercurial, achingly and effortlessly cool, detached while using his last moments to craft a legacy to give to his family of followers.

but canada is the tragically hip, or more accurately, gord downie: the unassuming star whose career was based on a longtime partnership, the one who perseveres rather than shoots up like a firework. we're not a superstar culture; in fact, canadians tend to be deeply suspicious, even contemptuous, of those who obviously want fame or attention. we are, like downie, people who sound grounded and welcoming enough to be able to draw in disparate groups and make them feel comfortable, but there is poetry inside us.

what i realised, or what i imagined i realised as i was desperately courting sleep, is that that idea of canadian-ness was something that had been bobbing around in the background for decades, content to be out of sight. but seeing its personification on stage, saying goodbye in the most canadian way i could think of, by inviting all his friends to a big party, i could tell that there was something that made me feel connected to this band whose work had always left me cold.

i'm not someone who is full of patriotism or passion for my country. that doesn't mean i'm not proud when we do things right, or that i don't feel privileged to live here, because i do [especially when one of my american friends tells me about having to go to the doctor]. but, if i see someone setting a canadian flag on fire, my reaction is to wonder why they want to do so, not to condemn them and run them out of the country. i have a tattoo of a welsh dragon on my right leg, and will be adding a scottish emblem on my left. i don't think i'll ever get a maple leaf.

seeing gord downie last night, though, i could suddenly feel everything in me that is canadian, and apparently those feelings had nowhere to go but out my eyes [and maybe out my nose a little bit]. i don't know when or even if that part of me will rise to the surface again; that tough little nugget descended from people who said "sure, we'll just stay here on the frozen bit, you guys take florida" and have been toughing it out ever since. but now i know it's there, and i'm quietly, canadian-ly happy to know that it is. 

17 August 2016

worldwide wednesdays :: who's going on the sh*t list?

as you probably heard, donald trump announced that, as president, he would order his administration to implement "extreme vetting" techniques when evaluating applications for immigration and possibly even travel [i'm not clear on whether the process goes this far down, but it remains a possibility]. here's how he addressed the topic at a rally in ohio:



i'll admit, when i hear people talk about doing things "extreme" style, i'm reminded of some truly unfortunate marketing campaigns, and, of course, this:



but my initial, goofy urges aside, there are some problems with what trump is saying. i mean, of course there are, but i'm not talking about the [very likely] possibility that he's being tacitly racist against muslims and/ or arabs. and i'm not even talking about the cost and difficulty of implementing the policy, because, in all honesty, politicians don't usually provide those kind of details about their policy proposals during an election campaign anyway. [maybe they should, but that's an issue that's broader than trump.]

first of all, i'm going to take issue with one clear mistake in his speech: he says that the united states has never faced anything like this sort of problem. that's wrong. in fact, the united states and europe were targeted in exactly this fashion by a group that had a similarly vague ideology in the early 20th century: anarchists. now, anarchists actually had some good points about the deplorable conditions of the poor and the violence committed against them by the moneyed classes. they were right about the government and the police being in the pocket of wealthy and often amoral industrialists, and against the people they were sworn to protect. but a small minority of them thought that the only way to improve the situation was to raze the existing society [the white, western society] and start over. and those people threw bombs, killing hundreds of innocent civilians and a shocking number of world leaders while they were at it. the independent posted a remarkable piece on the subject back in 2009, but it's completely, if not more, relevant today.

contemporary illustration of the bombing of the liceu opera
it correctly points out that the anger at anarchist bombings was disproportionately directed at immigrants, particularly eastern european jewish immigrants. i call attention to that because i feel like there is a tendency to separate historical instances of anti-semitism from other forms of racism, and this is ludicrous. the vitriol directed at left-leaning jews in america and europe in the early 20th century [whether they were anarchists like emma goldman or communists like leon trotsky] is exactly the same as that which is leveled against arabs and muslims now. and it banks on the same politics of belonging vs. otherness to be successful.

[side note :: the first group to engage in activities generally associated with terrorism were jews in the first century a.d. the zealots of judea were a sect who murdered romans, in an attempt to drive them to withdraw from the jewish holy lands, as well as jews whom they believed collaborated with the roman occupiers. the sect was eventually penned into the fortress at masada, where they committed mass suicide rather than be taken alive by their enemies.]

the second problem with what trump is saying is that it's based on the idea that terrorism is a pro-active movement, which can be stopped by simply eliminating or controlling a finite group of people. everything that we know about modern terrorism tells us that this is not true. in fact, as the independent piece linked above details, trying to crush a terrorist movement through threats and force is probably the least effective way of dealing with it, since it feeds the terrorist narrative that their struggle really is life or death. much more effective is the tactic of going about one's business and arresting those who have clear links to terrorist activities.

the other measure that has proven effective against terrorism is probably the most controversial one: despite the strongman rhetoric of governments that they do not negotiate with terrorists, the fact is that every successful diffusion of a terrorist threat in recent history has been achieved by doing exactly that. as the anarchists were undermined by governments making concessions to the labour movement, other terrorist groups like the ira, eta and even the once-despised plo have been convinced to scale back their violent activities or disown those who persisted in them by being offered concessions from the very people they opposed. the most recent example of this would be the colombian government agreeing to a truce with the farc rebels after sixty years of hostilities. let colombia be an example to the world: terrorist threats can persist for as long as an idea can persist, and no military in history has ever been able to bomb an idea.

the assassination of french president carnot, 1894
[side note :: in terms of longevity, the irish part of me needs to point out that ireland's struggles against protestant england date back to the sixteenth century when england first became protestant, and that outright conflict was a problem from the seventeenth century on. i can clearly remember that the irish republican army were one of the most feared terrorist groups; i was inspired to write a story [long since lost] with characters in the ira when i was in my early teens [it won a citywide award, too!] and the first time i went to london, in 1990, there were military men present because of the threat the republicans posed. that was the first time i ever saw a machine gun. so the irish clearly have a pretty solid claim in the terrorism longevity sweepstakes. but the more important takeaway here is that bringing the political wing of the ira, sinn fein, to the negotiating table, has accomplished more in twenty-five years than intransigence did in three hundred and fifty.]

finally, there is the issue that most pundits have seized on: how to define which nations are exporters and/ or supporters of terrorism. let me be clear: i'm not saying that he should have produced a definitive list of nations that would be affected by this [although it might have been nice]. but i think the proposal is far enough outside the norm that he should have at least given a bit more detail about the criteria he wants to use for defining a country that exports or supports terrorism, because without that, there's a lot of interpretations of what he said that, frankly, make him look a little crazy.

for instance, he should clarify whether he means this enhanced vetting should be used for potential immigrants, or for people visiting the u.s. keep in mind that the majority of illegal immigrants to the u.s. are people who arrived on legitimate visas, but stayed past the date when they expired. so visitors could end up remaining in the country, operating below the radar, for much longer than might be expected. on the other hand, exposing everyone who travels to the united states will be a nightmare for tourism and business travel, something on which thousands of u.s. businesses- u.s. employers- depend.

and that's one of the easier questions to answer. try coming up with even a provisional list of countries whose citizens would be subject to "extreme vetting" and you'll quickly find yourself arse deep in quicksand, armed with only a straw. but let's play along and try to come up with one anyway, shall we?

assassination of spanish prime minister castillo, 1896
let's immediately say that countries where the u.s. has an ongoing military engagement, or has within the last ten years, is automatically on the list. that's iraq and afghanistan, of course. and it's possibly libya as well. sure, let's say it's libya, because there are clearly people there who are willing to target westerners [benghazi benghazi benghazi]. so there's three.

but wait! if you add libya to the list, then you pretty much have to add algeria and tunisia, because the same islamic state operatives who are in libya move across borders to those countries. and tunisia, one of africa's few recent success stories, has seen attacks that targeted western foreigners.

but it would be grossly unfair to place algeria and tunisia on the list and to keep morocco off it. after all, people of moroccan descent were implicated in both the paris bombings in november 2015 and the glut of sexual assaults in koln last new year's eve. in terms of exporting terrorists [or their parents, since trump calls special attention to terrorist attacks by the children of immigrants], morocco has more to answer for than tunisia, libya or algeria.

and as long as we're talking north africa, trump has said that egypt is "a mess". should we take that to mean that egypt is on the list too? egyptians haven't been exporting terrorists, because they're too busy trying to sort out their own shit, but it kind of sounds like trump thinks they're questionable. and a few reporters were pretty brutally attacked during the arab spring uprising. so i guess they belong on our list.

in case you lost track, that means that every single country in north africa, along with afghanistan and iraq, is now subject to enhanced interrogation techniques.

but trump made specific mention of terrorists being muslims, and if we're going to think about it that way, then every muslim-dominated country becomes suspect. i was about to type out the list for you, but i'm fighting a bout of carpal tunnel, so i made a pretty picture for you instead [well, two, because i couldn't fit it all on one screen]:



is it me or is that a lot of countries?

but here's the rub: nigeria, which has the most detestable, violent, ruthless islamic terrorist group in the world, boko haram, isn't on that list. furthermore, the nigerian government has been criticised for not doing enough to stop boko haram. we tend not to hear as much about boko haram in north america, because they haven't specifically targeted westerners. but believe me, this is the last terrorist group that we want to have to deal with and it's one that's benefitted from a governmental blind eye.

assassination of president mckinley, 1901
but enough with the "easy" part of the argument. after all, the attacks perpetrated in the west have often been carried out by people born in the country where the attacks happened. you could make an argument that belgium is a greater exporter of terrorism than most majority muslim countries. indeed, you could make that argument about france. for that matter, three of the four bombers responsible for the 7/7/2005 bombings in the u.k. were born in england and the fourth was from jamaica. these are people raised in western countries, who attended western schools, speaking european languages, consuming european media. at what point are they no longer "immigrants", but just angry citizens acting out against their own country? is a belgian moving to the u.s. more or less likely to engage in terrorist activities than someone from mali? how about someone from syria? whatever horrors are occurring in syria, syrians have not been among those implicated in terrorist attacks in european and north american countries. if you're talking about shutting out countries that have produced terrorists, belgium should clearly be a greater priority than either mali or syria.

an even more perplexing problem, just because of its vastness and diversity, is russia. vladimir putin may be trump's favourite person, but there is no getting around the fact that russia has had some problems with terrorism in certain muslim-dominated quarters. the brothers behind the boston marathon bombing were from that region. fighters on both sides of the chechen conflict are russian citizens. [and although russia officially ended its counter-terrorism operation in chechnya in 2009, incidents have continued since then.] so where does russia fall on the terrorism continuum?

ok, now here's the really tough part: let's assume that, for the moment, islamic state/ isis/ daesh is the entire focus of anti-terrorism efforts, with some space reserved for al-qaeda and boko haram. that's not unreasonable given that, while there may be many terrorist groups in the world, those are the ones that are posing the chief threat to stability in large areas, and the ones that are most willing to target westerners. [that's not to say that westerners are more important, but we're talking about the implementation of a law in america, not argentina or madagascar.] so, the people we really want to keep out, the people who are really worthy of being refused entry to america or any country in the west, are those whose sympathies lie with the islamic state and who could be [or have been] persuaded to commit acts of violence in service of the isis cause.

bombing of wall street, 1920
the problem here is that the problem is here. white westerners from europe, america, canada, australia and others have flocked to the syria and iraq to fight with isis. fight with them as in, on their side. hundreds and hundreds of people, who are beyond any doubt terrorists. that's way more people than most of the ones already on the list. so who's exporting terrorists now?

earlier, i said that i didn't expect donald trump to provide a lot of details about his policy, but the problem is that, if he doesn't, it leaves the rest of us to speculate about what might happen and by any measure, what might happen with this policy is a huge mess. let's cut to the chase: we all know what "kind" of people he's talking about when he says he wants to subject some to more comprehensive vetting. but the idea is vague and fights any attempt to be defined, even though defining it is essential to putting it in place. even if you could legally say "middle eastern or muslim looking people" were to be given the extreme treatment [i'm honestly not sure if you can or can't], that's trusting that a ground-level employee can make some pretty astounding judgment calls where lives hang in the balance. and given isis' success in recruiting from all over the world, there's no evidence that such "extreme" techniques would be of much use. a lot of terrorists aren't going to be caught at the border, because they're already in the country and have been their whole lives.

16 August 2016

i finally remembered to put a title here

lulu is not the world's best assistant...
[i don't know why it took me so long to notice this, but i published this post without a title. so now i've given it a title. a silly title, to be sure, but i revel in the frequent silliness of my blog post titles.]

this post as a little bit of everything, i suppose...

1. i figured that the donald and his cornsilk cotton candy hair had assaulted our eyes long enough, so i have switched up the featured post. i delved back into the semi-defunct worldwide wednesdays archive and pulled out this post on the so-called "arab world", because i do think that it's an area of confusion for many people, including me from time to time. and, yes, i have to admit that the donald once again influenced the choice with his comments about conducting "extreme vetting" ["enhanced" would probably have been a better choice of word, except that dick cheney and the cia ruined it for all of us] on some prospective immigrants or visitors to the united states. i'll be talking about the idea of "exporters of terror" in another post, but, even if we believe that trump means muslims, or arabs, or people from certain countries, even that definition could cause confusion. having an opinion about "certain areas of the world" is one thing, but policy is built on specifics and if and when trump gets in office, he's going to have to grapple with the reality of narrowing his focus to the point where it can be used by thousands of employees around the nation in a consistent way. i'm offering this piece as an example of the complexities of even defining the word "arab" in a way that incorporates our understanding of the word and offers some other possibilities.

2. a friend posted this article on my facebook wall today, which is one of the best pieces i've ever read about the strange intricacies of english. i had written something about this myself a while back, but this one is way better, if for no other reason than it has examples. [and while english has a lot of different accents and dialects, the same is true of most other languages in europe and around the world, so my idea that the accents and dialects themselves are a signal of english's unique weirdness is misguided.] our essential theses, however, are the same: english is a uniquely perverse language because it is a hodgepodge of other languages. i'm happy to have a more informed person back me up on that.

3. several people have sent me articles and suggested topics for mental health mondays and i want to thank you very much for doing so. suggestions like this make it so much easier for me to focus, plus it's an opportunity to work on something i know you guys want to read. as always, you can contact me with any ideas you'd like me to cover. [well, within the range of topics i usually cover on the blog. ask me for an opinion piece on nascar and it's going to be a short read.] mental health mondays will return on september 5th, well-rested and ready to take on the big, crazy world.

4. i haven't posted music lately. here is some music. i'm sad that the opportunities to dj around here have dried up, because i miss doing it, but that doesn't mean i'm any less interested in music itself, or that i'm not constantly finding things that tickle my proverbial fancy. [where is one's fancy located, exactly? no, wait. i don't think i want to know.]

i know very little about snowbeasts except that i really like what they've heard. their newest release is a compilation of tracks recorded from 2014-16, but this is one from their last "proper" album.



tracks that are "ethnically influenced" too often reek of appropriation, but sikhara seem to have walked the walk, living as a self-described nomad for years and producing something that bears the imprints of that experience, rather than just borrowing from a particular culture. sadly seems to have disappeared since 2013.



stclvr is another one of those mysterious american artists i stumbled across on bandcamp. definitely interesting for fans of early haus arafna, although it might even be harsher than that. eek.



thanks, as always, for coming by this space. i would invite you all out for coffee and chats if i could. 

13 August 2016

yes, you understood me correctly

i figured it had been a while since i gave an update on my progress with language learning. it's gone from being something i wanted to try, but lacked the means and time, to something i had put my mind to, to something that's become a conduit to all sorts of different discoveries, not just about languages, but about people and history. it's also become the thing i do when i feel like my anxieties are getting the better of me, because its methodical nature and self-controlled pace help me focus on something other than the fact that every synapse in my brain has suddenly decided to dump its cache in my think hole.

as you might remember, however, i occasionally get the feeling that duolingo, my preferred place for free online language learning, is preparing me for a rather strange life in other countries. [see here and here.] so here's another edition of "things i really must work into a conversation".

you might recall that last time, i was learning the important skill of acquiring a rhinoceros in dutch. now i'm happy to say that i've upped my negotiation game:

always best to start small

as you can see, i'm learning to work my way up to the rhinoceros. once i've established myself as a reliable sheep customer, a rhinoceros will just be the next logical step.

and if anyone asks me why i need these small sheep, i do have an answer for them, although, unfortunately, i'd have to switch to german to give it.

who else will protect me from vampire butterflies?
i also have some honed bargaining skills in welsh [because who is more likely to have a sheep than a welshman?]

they're all the fashion this year

i could also give the welshman suggestions of where he might find the rhinoceros, which is my ultimate goal:

making language great again

but if i'm confusing a poor dutch buyer with all this talk, i could just fall back on one the oldest bargaining chips a woman has in her arsenal: subtle flirting

would you like to count the pieces?

in a more general way, i'm kind of convinced that the entire swedish course is useful primarily for when you're out in the scandinavian woods, drinking to the point of hallucination:

we've all reached that point at least once
it's undercooked. abort and order pizza

sometimes, i'm worried that little duo, the magical language owl, is actually out to make me seem a bit of a thicky.


alternate translation: i failed math

or that he's getting me to spend time on things that aren't really necessary.


did you think i wouldn't notice??

but there are a number of things that i probably am going to be very useful to me...

you'd better hand me the pills

i am thrilled that i will be able to discuss my weltschmerz in polish.

then there's this little gem, which i'll pull out as either a teaser or a warning:

from "italian for mobsters"

i'll clarify who and where the first victim is a little later...

i do think that this one will be very practical, when i want to offer some criticism at a show, but don't want to hurt anyone's feelings:


this has been an issue 

even better, i know how to switch out the pronoun, so i'm not limited to criticising boys.

but, given the situation post-brexit and the bizarre downward spiral into which the united kingdom has flushed itself, i think that i will have the opportunity to use this one quite frequently:




so as you can see, i'm making a lot of linguistic progress. pretty soon, you won't have any idea what i'm saying [as opposed to just not having any idea why i'm saying it]. and eventually, i will have that rhinoceros.

11 August 2016

back off!

i've been absent a few days because i've been dusting off manuscripts and preparing for a couple of projects. yesterday, while doing so, i started to comb through a short story i'd written a while back, just to make sure it was perfect. i mean, i figured it was perfect, because i'd submitted it for publication some time ago, although it was [sob!] rejected.

this is when i had one of the most horrifying experiences a writer can have. it wasn't perfect at all. it wasn't even a little bit perfect. in fact, it was so un-perfect that pieces of it were difficult to follow if you didn't live in my brain, which few people do and none of them are publishers. i gnashed my teeth and wondered what the hell i was thinking and committed myself, once again, to a rule i try to stick by, but occasionally forget:

never submit anything that has only recently been completed.

i have this rule because, when i'm excited to have finished something, i usually want to find somewhere to send it right away. my best option would be to just send it to an unwitting friend and wait for them to get back to me to explain the parts that confused or irritated them, but sometimes, i'll get a big head and fire it off to a publisher because damn i'm good. and i might be good. but i'm almost never good enough when i finish something and then give it a couple of quick edits [as a brief perusal of this blog will surely reveal, since most of the posts here are "raw"].

when i'm still in that "i finished something and i am as a god" phase of self-delusion, reading through a piece is tricky. all the ideas are basically still flowing, so it's never a problem for me to make sense of what i'm saying. what i really need to do is step away from the manuscript and wait until the inspiration gets a little fuzzy. that's when i'll be able to notice things like "this sentence has no verb". or when i'll realise that my cutesy/ radical phrasing reads as semi-literate for someone who isn't already well-known for her daring style. [before you can make a habit of breaking all the rules, you do have to convince people that you understand them to begin with.]

so i spent much of last night and this morning weeding through the story and being a little scared of it, because it had so cleverly hidden its faults from me before. this is the long-term effect of editing failures: you start to doubt that you will ever be able to find all the problems and that there are always disasters hidden in your words. i'm getting anxious just thinking about all the embarrassing mistakes that are currently lurking on my computer, snickering as they play hide and seek with my over-eager eyes. damn those tricky word-fairies and their tortuous games!

so, to the editor who had to read my deeply flawed submission and who rightly rejected it, i apologise. you've probably forgotten about it amid heaps of word-fairy-tainted manuscripts you received before and since. i hang my head in shame before you.

and if you're reading this, i'm sure you've already noticed mistakes. but this is my messy space, and it always will be. i thank you for persevering with me anyway.

image source

06 August 2016

making faces :: giving in to anastasia

a few years ago, anastasia was a marginal brand, known almost exclusively for their cult favourite eyebrow products. i tried out one of their eyeshadow duos and was very impressed, but i never ended up getting more before they were discontinued. today, anastasia are the cosmetic brand, their every new release anticipated and lusted over on instagram. their silver-haired head honcho norvina is the daughter of the brand's founder and is nearly as influential on beauty trends as the ubiquitous kylie jenner, being almost single-handedly responsible for the industry's obsession with matte liquid lipsticks over the past three years or so. of course, the brand still has its expert brow products, but it's now probably best known for its liquid lipsticks and gleaming highlighters.

after being an early adopter of their original eyeshadows, i was slow to get on board with their revamped brand image. i could make up [haha! look at me pun!] an excuse and say that i'm always suspicious of brands with a lot of hype, or that the image of the brand had gotten much younger and it made me unsure of how the products would suit my middle-aged [i said it! where's my prize?] skin, and those things would be kind of true. but the real truth is that i'm lazy as hell and up until recently i couldn't get them from sephora or any other retailer in canada that has multiple brands available, and it's rare that i have to be really curious to plump for shipping from the u.s. to buy products from a single brand.

this year, however, which always had a minor presence at sephora, has gone whole hog, with virtually their entire range [save for a few exclusives to their own website] available online, and much of it available in store. i still dislike very matte liquid lipsticks [that's not a knock against their formula, about which i know almost nothing; i pretty much hate them all except armani's, which is being discontinued. boo.] and super-metallic highlighters emphasize my pores, but earlier this year they launched a collection of single shadows that really caught my eye. [omg, i am a punning machine!]

given the brand's younger, edgier vibe, i was a little surprised that the vast majority of the shadows were muted and neutral. there are a few brighter teals and purples, but no acid greens or yellows, no hot pinks or oranges. on the other hand, there is an excellent range of finishes- matte, satin, shimmer, metallic, glitter- and colours that are likely to suit a lot of skin tones. like pretty much every permanent eyeshadow collection on the planet, the selection leans warm, but, with eighty-four colours in the offing, there are a decent number of cooler options.

although you can purchase single shades for $16 each [as compared to $8 for mac singles], the most economical way to get them is by ordering in sets of 4, with a palette for $1 more, the combination of which gets you a $13 discount on checkout. that's a total of $52, for those of you who didn't come here to do math. a mac 4-pan palette, by comparison, costs $42. both the anastasia palette and shadows are just a little bit deeper- anastasia's shadows are 0.059oz vs mac's 0.05. again, if you didn't come here to math, that means that mac is about 5% cheaper taking the total weight into account. however, i'm going to assume that most people will look at the $10 difference. or just which one has colours they like more.

04 August 2016

small change

just thought i'd call your attention to the fact that i've made a little addition here that may be of interest to some of you:

on the upper right hand side of your screen, you will notice that there is now a "featured" post. so i'll be updating this periodically to call attention to something interesting, or timely, or weird, that's been on more like space in the past.

for the moment, i've chosen to feature a post from the currently defunct but hopefully returning when i sort out my timing paranoid theory of the week series.

i wrote the piece one year and one day ago, because of a funny rumour rippling through the internet in both left and right wing circles. at the time, i almost laughed at myself for giving it a 3/10 on the likelihood scale, but in the 367 days that have passed, i'm wondering if i wasn't a little dismissive. although i find it interesting, i'm not putting any serious weight the pop psychology diagnoses of donald trump as either a psychopath [which isn't even a mental disorder] or a narcissist [ok, i'll admit, i give some credence to that one]. but there is a part of me that thinks that this is a practical joke that has gotten way out of control, and the man's only recourse is just to make things so off the chart bad that the republicans run him out of the party on a rail.

i wish that i could remember the name of the republican analyst who said that he hoped trump won and proceeded to get blown out so that the gop could rebuild. i'd like to ask him how he's feeling right now. also, i'd like to ask him if i could borrow the genie's bottle he has, because there are a few things on my wish list right now.

there will, of course, be different featured posts and, as i change them, i'll try to introduce them and explain why those particular posts are there. 

03 August 2016

worldwide wednesdays :: a war of oil and water

a storm is coming
[hey look! i finally gave in and started to spell "worldwide" as one word. i always like the symmetry of the three w's, but i know that it's not really supposed to be spelled that way. ultimately, spelling kate won out over style kate.]

i realised today that i'm in danger of becoming strictly a u.s. political blog, which is certainly not what i ever intended. so to break up the rhythm of ohmygodwhattheactualfuckareyoudoingamerica, i thought i'd focus on something that's even worse than the current election.

we've all heard, nearly every day, about the raging wars in syria, iraq and afghanistan. if you pay attention to the news, you're probably aware of ongoing conflicts in yemen and ukraine as well. and although you might not think of them as "wars" in the same sense, it's widely known that mexico and columbia are engaged in a vicious struggle with drug cartels/ organised crime. those conflicts have been the cause of tens of thousands of deaths in the last year and they're widely publicized because they are the deadliest in the world, but the sad fact is that there are wars of varying intensities happening everywhere. they may be smaller now, but one thing that history teaches us is that small conflicts can flare up into something much worse with little warning [or that tensions can flare up again, when you think that they've been quelled]. so in the interests of being profoundly depressed about the state of the world and to feed our collective cassandra complex, i thought i would give you a brief look at what i think is possibly the most dangerous and under-reported conflict area in the world: sudan and south sudan

south sudan is the world's newest country, having chosen overwhelmingly to separate from their northern neighbours in 2011. unfortunately, while this was seen as a way to resolve historical tensions [dating from days when the english and egyptians were in control of both contemporary countries], it hasn't worked out very well for either side.

before the break-up
until the split, sudan's was one of the fastest growing economies in africa, which was shocking given the numerous [and often coincidental] civil wars. however, when south sudan packed their bags, their luggage included most of the country's lucrative oil fields and other natural resources like iron ore, gold, silver, diamonds, tungsten and more. needless to say, this was like a sledgehammer to the gut of the sudanese economy and relations have been tense between the two nations ever since. there have been squabbles about the exact location of the border and two states still in sudan [south kordofan and blue nile] are fighting for their own independence.

internally, sudan has around three million displaced persons, hundreds of thousands of them in refugee camps. but they have also been a destination for refugees from adjacent countries, like those fleeing boko haram in niger and chad, and those fleeing conflicts in the  horn of africa [the ones that brought us the epidemic of piracy a couple of years ago].

judging from their share of the national goods, you'd think that south sudan would be in decent shape, but that is absolutely not the case. despite the fact that the gdp per person is relatively high, the vast majority of south sudanese survive on less than a dollar a day and their health indicators are among the worst in the world. and, having successfully fought for their independence from the arab and muslim north, south sudan's two largest ethnic groups, the dinka and the nuer, descended into ethnic violence almost immediately. the country's military is split between the two groups and, while the leaders of the two factions have tried to reconcile, both have accused the other of acting in bad faith.

this conflict should be a huge concern for the rest of the world, because, as it gets fired up, it will be almost certainly flood surrounding countries like the waters of the nile river. control over sections of the nile is an issue for both countries. sudan is highly susceptible to droughts and, since they no longer have the oil reserves they once did, they are relying more and more on hydroelectric power. this is, of course, a much cleaner option, but hydroelectric projects can have unexpected impacts on the surrounding ecosystem.

[the story continues after the break, however i will take this opportunity to warn you that there are also a couple of images that some might find disturbing]

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