30 October 2016

who goes there? [part one]

deep thoughts
although i came to it late, i'm a huge fan of arrested development. i can thank dom for introducing me to the series a couple of years after its untimely demise, and we've since watched it together so many times that we can quote almost every episode from memory. [and we still occasionally find little things that we hadn't noticed before].

one of the things that i wish had been given more attention, though was buster bluth's history as a scholar. with his oddly specific disconnected interests, it's apparent from the beginning that he's meandered through a number of specialties without ever becoming much of an expert in any of them. although the bluth family's ignominious tumble from financial grace forces him to withdraw from his eternal cycle of grad school programs, we see that he's learned archaeology, eighteenth century agrarian business, native american studies and dance [having taken a class at the university of mexico city]. i have to say that i have some sympathy with him on that front, being prone to sudden-onset obsessions with subjects that are of interest only to me.

the first subject we're told that buster is studying [just before the financial collapse] is cartography, the mapping of the world. this is meant to be silly, because, as his older, smarter brother michael points out, it's kind of all been done before by "magellan... and nasa". buster unconvincingly tries to tell him that they think there might be some places that those people have missed. however, if buster had paid attention in his classes, he might have pointed out that there are most definitely some places that steadfastly resist human efforts to record and catalogue them.

i'd originally planned to cover a whole bunch in one blog post, but then it became obvious that i'd taken on more than i could handle in a single sitting. so i've split it up, and this part will deal with only the two most obvious regions that remain vastly unknown to us: the oceans and antarctica.

there have been exactly two manned trips to the ocean's deepest point- the mariana trench- both done in cooperation with the national geographic society. the first was in 1960, when don walsh and jacques picard touched bottom for twenty minutes and took some basic measurements. the dive was considered a huge success, however, the diving vessel did crack under pressure as it approached the bottom. the buckling panel turned out to be no big deal [although it could have prevented them from resurfacing], but there wasn't exactly a rush to get back down there and look around.

oh those are just our giant sea volcanoes, no big deal
no second attempt was made until 2012, when director james cameron [that's right, the terminator, titanic and avatar guy] made a solo trip. appropriately enough, cameron was the first person to be able to capture detailed video of the depths of the trench and his discoveries have provided by far the best information we've yet had about it. [and, lest you think this was an egotistical publicity stunt, cameron is dead serious about science and anthropology. he's an explorer-in-residence with national geographic and helped design the vessel he took to the bottom of the sea himself.]

and that's just the mariana trench. far larger and potentially more interesting is the mid-atlantic ridge, the longest mountain range in the world, running from just south of the north pole to just north of antarctica. it's also one of the most volcanically active places on earth, the implications of which we're still trying to understand. let me repeat: there's a giant ridge of mountains the length of the globe that's constantly exploding, and we hardly know anything about it. [other than iceland, which is its best-known above-ground bit.]

we know more about the surface of mars and venus than we do about the oceans that make up the majority of our planet. the standard claim is that we've explored less than 5% of the oceans and mapped only one one-hundredth of that. that's not exactly accurate, as we have mapped the entire ocean floor through satellites, but only to a resolution of five kilometres. so anything that's smaller than five kilometres is invisible to us. by comparison, 98% of the surface of venus has been mapped to a resolution of 100m, as has the entire surface of mars. only a little more than a tenth of the ocean floor has been mapped at that resolution. [oh, and mapping of mars at 20m resolution is over 60% complete.] so i'm in no way joking when i say we know less about what's lapping at our shores than we do about planets most of us will never get to visit. [sad face.]

sure, go towards the blue light, what could go wrong?
what we know at this point is that we know perilously little. we've gone through millennia thinking that, due to the crushing pressure and darkness, few species of animals would exist in the deepest parts of the ocean. turns out that what's uninhabitable for us is a cosy home for a lot of others, because there's huge biodiversity just waiting to eat us in the dark, some of which is freakin' huge. it's like we don't even know enough to know how to ask the right questions, which is why we have scientists researching things like "can the ocean sink boats when it farts?" [it can, at least in theory.]

and then there's antarctica. while most of us might picture a giant ice sheet whose perimeter is inhabited by adorable penguins, there's a lot more to the place than that. unsurprisingly, antarctica is the coldest place on earth. [i believe montreal in january is second.] from its discovery until quite recently, people assumed that this was because it was just a giant, thick block of ice, kind of like the one we have in the north. but the fact is that the massive ice sheet was just slapped on top of a whole bunch of other stuff when the last ice age caught everyone by surprise.

around the centre of the continent, there is a mountain range with peaks the size of the alps. they were mapped out by radar only a few years ago, because they're under a sheet of ice. [they have above-ice mountains too!] and one of the reasons why a lot of the surface of antarctica looks like a desert made of ice is because that's exactly what it is. the antarctic desert is the largest in the world- about 14.2 million square km. the sahara desert, in second place, is less than two-thirds that size.

it's also home to the sixth largest lake in the world, lake vostok, discovered in 2007 and comparable to lake ontario. the lake is buried under 4km of ice in the place that holds the record for the coldest temperature ever recorded [-89.2 celsius], but is still home to about 3,500 microbial lifeforms. after an attempt to penetrate the ice quite literally blew up in their faces, an enterprising group of russian scientists managed to bore a hole all the way down, so they can extract samples for testing and find out what's down there. [because, when you're dealing with thousands of microbes that have never seen the surface of the earth before, what's most important is to get them to the surface, where humans can be exposed to them.]

the real mountains of madness
and just this year, on another part of the continent, one that's unexplored even by antarctic standards, researchers discovered that there's a giant canyon under the ice, longer and deeper than the much more famous and visible grand canyon, that may or may not lead to another heretofore unknown subglacial lake.

oh, and it's apparently catnip for meteors; antarctica has sustained more meteor hits than any other place on earth. [but yes, by all means, bring the outer space microbes up to the surface so we can all look at them.]

all of those thing make antarctica a pretty wild and exciting place, but here's the thing: we know fuck all about it. it's too cold for people to live there regularly, and it's hard to find evidence of anything on the surface, so nasa and others keep flying overhead, pinging the surface to scan what's beneath it and occasionally hitting subglacial paydirt. i mean, on a surface level [yuk yuk], we know what's there. it's been mapped for more than forty years. but pretty much since the moment cartographers put down their pencils and said "mission accomplished", we've been finding out that the mission is just starting.

so that's it for part one. now, the thing is that there are good reasons we haven't been able to explore these things, even though they're huge. what might surprise you more is that there's stuff we've been sticking on maps for years that remains pretty unknown.

26 October 2016

critical failure

i had my first taste of linguistic humiliation yesterday. i. am. so. disappointed. in. myself.

yesterday was the day i finally made a trip to librairie michel fortin, a bookstore dedicated entirely to the wonder of languages and language learning. it's a mecca of instructional books of all sorts, for all levels, and on different themes. you can find exercise books, common phrase books, books with audio cds [and a couple with download codes, which is surely the way to go]. there are massive sections on french, english, spanish and italian, with chinese and arabic not far behind. but you can also find breton, basque and mongolian. and on top of that, there are books of fiction and poetry you may know only in translation. and for those who crave something a little more direct, there are also books about insulting people and making out in different languages. it is packed to the rafters with awesome.

as i was browsing, i noticed that there was a book that combined learning of romance languages [french, spanish, italian, portuguese] from english- basically, since the grammatical structure and much of the vocabulary is similar between them, you can just work them together. since i've already established a base in french, spanish and italian, i didn't feel the need to need to pick the book up just so that i could learn to insult antichrist jose mourinho in his native tongue. sadly, i'll probably never be close enough to him to act on that obsession urge.

but what did occur to me was that there might be a similar book for scandinavian languages. since i've started learning swedish, i figured maybe it would be fun to have a guide on hand to help me learn the equivalent words/ phrases/ pronunciation in danish and norwegian. after all, those languages are so close that people debate whether they're even separate languages, or a continuum, since each one breaks down into slightly different dialects within the country [norwegian on its own is basically two languages]. or, to put it more simply, the scandinavian languages are a whole lot closer to one another than the romance languages.

i did not find one, but i figured i could ask one of the friendly staff. i explained what i was looking for, and that i'd been learning swedish, at which point the man helping me flipped from french to perfect swedish "ah, du talar svenska?"

and i froze. i know the verb 'to learn: 'låra sig'. i know the word for 'little': 'litet'. i could have said things that involved those words. but instead i stood there and very slowly squeezed out the words 'ja... jag... talar...' at which point the kind gentleman switched back to french. i was devastated. this was my very first opportunity to try out one of my spiffy new languages and i failed utterly. i wanted to sink into the floor.

there was, in fact, a book just like the one that i wanted, but it was out of stock, and the publisher had a minimum order requirement, so, while they could special order it for me, they would have to wait until they were doing an order from that supplier. but they reassured me that this happened regularly, so it wouldn't be too long a wait. this whole time, i'm trying to think of something intelligent to say in swedish, so that i don't look like a complete idiot for saying that i was learning it, but all that's coming to mind is 'jag ser ut som en älg', which means 'i look like a moose'. which, i realised, was worse than saying nothing at all. so i thought it best to bite my tongue.

that is, until i left the order desk and thought that the least i could do was say thanks in the language i was supposedly able to speak. i burst out with 'dank je wel!', as confidently as i could manage. i was halfway across the floor when i realised that 'dank je wel' is dutch. swedish for 'thanks very much' is 'tack så mycket'. waves of shame.

i continued to browse, dead set on looking for books on languages i knew absolutely nothing about, so that i wouldn't be tempted to try to show off. a few minutes later, the helpful man came up to show me a box of swedish fridge poetry that they had. i guess so that i could learn at least one more word. [seriously, how awesome is the idea of swedish fridge poetry?]

reflecting on it later, part of the problem might have been that i was switching to french, which is not my native language. [earlier this week, i told a guest we were looking to move some of the furniture around in our 'foyer', which in french means 'fireplace'. i still managed the rest of the conversation, but that's the kind of mistake i still make, even though i've spoken french for years.] so maybe my brain just got overloaded trying to switch from a second language to a third. maybe if i'd switched from english- so similar to swedish in a lot of respects- it would have been easier. but that doesn't matter in the end.

i'd had my chance and i melted down.

this doesn't dim my enthusiasm, of course. i know if i keep practicing, i can do better. i mean, if i can shake off telling people i'm moving furniture around in the fireplace, i can do better than stammering out three words and choking. and the store itself is wonderful [many thanks to martin for his exceptional patience as i browsed for more than an hour], so i will definitely be returning. i just might be wearing a disguise when i do so. 

22 October 2016

making faces :: making scents

right. attempt number two at this post. i literally had this completely finished last night when blogger decided to eat all my work. hopefully it's not so contemptuous of my time tonight.

first of all, you can thank dom for the title of this post, because i was about to call it "making smells" until he convinced me that that had some unpleasant connotations. of course, the world of scent isn't necessarily connected to the world of cosmetics, which is normally what "making faces" posts are about, but since they're often conflated in terms of marketing, i'm just going to moosh them together under this heading.

i find that talking about perfume is a lot like talking about wine: i rather enjoy doing it, but after about three sentences, i know i'm out of my depth. basically, everything that comes out after that is along the line of "i like spices" and nothing more. it actually took me a long time to figure out not just what i liked in a scent, but what worked on my skin. i think that's true for all of us- ladies and gents- who are drawn to fragrance; it seems like we should just instinctively know what works, but that's not the case. many's the time when i've spritzed myself with something that smelled fetching, only to spend the next two hours wondering how to get it off me.

the first perfume i ever bought for myself was christian dior's poison. i was about fourteen and the effect was ridiculous. such a heavy, voluptuous scent needed to be worn by someone older and more experienced with the world than i was. this was all the more true because the perfume didn't blend with my own scent, but rather just sat there, being itself. that's not what should happen.

one of the reasons why it's so hard to talk about perfume is because something that really works on you is a matter of chemistry: perfume oil, captured in a solution of alcohol in water, is spritzed over your skin. immediately, it starts to bond with the oils that are in your skin naturally, and this changes it. it keeps changing over hours and the way it changes on me will be completely different than the way it changes on you. which means that, even if it smells the same on us to begin with, it'll likely get farther apart as time wears on. such is the nature of chemistry.

[side note :: the dilution of the perfume oil in an alcohol solution isn't something that's done because the parfumeur is greedy. pure perfume oils are heavy, think, prone to staining, irritating to the skin, and strong enough to knock you out if you put a little too much on. the alcohol solution makes the oil lighter, and allows it to vaporise and land on you in a lovely mist. even products advertised as "perfume oils" aren't pure oils, with the exception of some that are used for things like aromatherapy. and in case you've ever wondered, but not googled, here is a convenient chart to help explain the difference between perfume, cologne, eau de parfum, etc. it's all about concentration.]

when i hit high school, it was when the body shop was starting to appear in halifax. all my friends were wearing tea rose, but when i tried it on me, it just seemed to disappear. i absolutely loved the scent, but my skin swallowed it. so instead, i picked up a bottle of their rose musk perfume. it was a rose of a different colour, with a sexy, musky and woody base under a rich floral overcoat. that was my scent for years, but it was sadly discontinued in the mid nineties. unlike my back-up favourites from the body shop, japanese musk and juba, rose musk has never returned. [hangs head in a moment of silent regret.]

in more recent years, i've expanded beyond perfume oils, to different brands of perfume. that's made me engage with more complex scents, but it's also made me aware of how scent can go terribly wrong. there's nothing i can do about my mistakes, but i thought that, while i might not be able to tell you what perfumes to buy, i could at least share some of the things i've learned.

1. know what you're getting into. don't be satisfied with just spritzing something on your skin, or, even worse, on a piece of paper and deciding it's perfect. wear that bugger and make it prove its worth. for many people, perfume will be the most expensive personal care/ cosmetic purchase you make, so it should damn well make you feel [and smell] incredible.

i will often spray on a perfume on multiple visits to a store before deciding to purchase, and i recommend others do the same. furthermore, samples are your friends. don't be afraid to ask for them. any retailer who refuses to give you a sample isn't interested in your business anyway. [associates at sephora will make a sample from the tester bottle if they don't have samples on hand, which is a fantastic idea and something that other retailers should pick up on.]

2. follow the clues. a few months ago, i ordered a perfume called gin from commodity. i thought it would be a good match, because it featured bergamot as a top note, and bergamot is also the predominant top note in guerlain's shalimar, one of my favourite scents of all time. instead, gin made me smell like i drunk a few litres of kool-aid and peed myself. but it smells fresh and invigorating on dom. what the hell?

well, i can explain what the hell. clearly, bergamot is not a "make or break" ingredient in perfumes with me. but, once you look through the various notes in perfumes that you know work on you, you can probably find a common element. for me, it's saffron. it's not a scent that dominates in too many fragrances, but when it is fairly high in the mix, there's a very good chance that i'll be able to wear it well.

one of the only perfumes i've encountered that advertises its saffron-ness is safran troublant, by l'artisan parfumeur. but i've also noticed that tom ford makes use of it a lot, especially in his exclusive collection [goodbye money, i will miss you!]. tuscan leather and white suede are two of my very favourites and, along with their musky, smoky spines, they have saffron woven in.

3. perfume is transgender. one of the most frustrating things about looking for a good perfume for me was that so many of them soon turned into a limp cloud of stale flowers or slightly rancid fruit. then, i discovered that was because a lot of fragrances made for women- even high end ones- were just too sweet on me. there were a few that i quite liked [kenzo amour and flower, guerlain insolence], but even then, they tended not to last more than a few hours on me.

then at some point, i just started trying on men's perfumes [yes, they're still perfumes if boys wear them]. suddenly, a door opened. i've shocked experience fragrance salespeople who've tried to convince me that what i mean is that i just like spicy or woody scents. that's not it. it's just that, about seven times out of ten, a men's scent works better on me than a woman's. and, once i've spritzed one of each on my arms, the salesperson always agrees, with a shocked face.

i'm glad to see that perfume manufacturers are starting to offer more and more unisex scents, but the fact is that most of them are unisex anyway. the aforementioned tuscan leather is the sort of scent that makes people jump when they smell it, because it's so dark and heavy. but when i put it on [assuming i don't overdo it], the reaction with my particular skin tames it a little.

if you look at the notes in men's and women's perfumes, you'll quickly notice that it's the exact same ones used in both. they're just arranged differently. aramis, a men's scent headed by bergamot, works just as well on me as the much more feminine shalimar. [it has a distinctive oak moss note, which is another ingredient that tends to sit well on me.]

4. feel free to change your wardrobe. one of the reasons i absolutely loved rose musk back in the day was because it was something that no one else seemed to wear. [probably why it was discontinued.] after playing around with a few, my signature has become guerlain mitsouko. [oak moss again!] but that doesn't mean that i wear it every single day. some people do have a "one and only" fragrance, which is fine, but i find that, at different times of year, there are different things that just feel right. in spring, lighter, greener scents work really well [i love l'artisan parfumeur coeur de vetiver sacre and fou d'absinthe, both of which i picked up in a gift set of men's fragrances]. in summer, i adore the playful, zesty notes of tom ford neroli portofino, or, for feeling sexy on a sultry summer night, frederic malle carnal flower. [dom's reaction the first time i wore this was "i can smell the carnal."] autumn is when i bust out the tuscan leather and aramis, because they feel so at home with the scent of leaves and smoke that permeate the air. and in winter, i have a special place in my heart of the armani privé unisex perfume bois d'encens. [mr. armani apparently designed it to evoke the memories of attending church with his mother in italy as a child, and boy, did he succeed. it really does smell like aged wooden pews and sacral incense. and it totally smells better on me, dom.]

i'm sharing and linking those, so that you can see that there's quite a variety i shuffle through during the year. you can certainly see where some of them are linked [saffron, oak moss, and, weirdly enough, raspberry all crop up a lot], while others [neroli portofino] are outliers that just happen to work. nevertheless, despite all the scents i like to rotate, i'm willing to bet that if people close to me were to catch a whiff of mitsouko, they'd check to see if i were nearby. and that would work for you too. you don't have to wear your favourite every day for it to be your signature. there may be whole seasons when your preferred perfume seems out of place. [much though i adore it, tuscan leather is the olfactory equivalent of a heavy blanket in summer heat.] play around with things. maybe there's a scent you like better when it rains, or when you're in the city/ country.

so that's about everything that i've learned on the subject of perfume. it's not much, but i figure it might be a little helpful. feel free to share your own personal adventures in smell. 

21 October 2016

so the world hates me


i just spent over an hour- nay, over two hours- writing a lovely blog post. it was such a good blog post, you wouldn't believe it. it was the best blog post. and now it's gone. like it never existed.

fuck you, blogger. fuck you right in the ear.

because now, i've wasted two hours. now, i realise that i could have been doing something fun, or productive or basically anything other than what i've been doing, because what i've been doing essentially no longer exists.

and my butt hurts, because i've been sitting in this chair too long.

when i first moved to montreal, the movers i hired lost one thing: the box with all my writing in it. everything i wrote before i was twenty-four is gone. i still think about that a lot. it still haunts me, because it's like i found out my liver had never existed. it's supposed to be there.

and i know it was just a blog post. it wasn't going to change the world. it wasn't going to be the blog post that rocketed me to fame and fortune, but i miss it. something else took it from me. i was being careful to save as i wrote, because we've all had that blow up in our faces. but somehow, it just ceased to exist. so, for the last couple of hours, i might has well not have existed. i might as well have been taken by aliens, which would have at least made for a more interesting story than "i was writing a blog post and it disappeared".

the worst part is that this little, meaningless blog post is the only chance i've had to write anything for myself in days. i've been desperate to write, but things keep getting in the way and i don't. this was my time, blogger, and you ruined it.

so i'm leaving you with this whiny testimony just to let you know that i exist. and i've existed for the last two hours, even though no one can ever prove that.

someday i'll die and be reunited with my blog post and everything else i've lost, in the ether, for eternity. or not.

17 October 2016

mental health mondays :: vote with your crazy [u.s. edition]

since i did a post on this subject for last year's canadian election, i figured it was only fair, given the amount of blog space i've dedicated to our neighbours to the south, to do a version for the imminent united states election. after all, with issues like the economy and foreign engagements getting buried in an avalanche of hacked emails and pussy, there's pretty much zero chance that either presidential candidate will ever mention mental health.

but that's ok, because it's not really the president who's going to decide these things, but the congress. so while you might want to fire some questions at hillary or the donald over social media [and you might even get a response], this post is intended more for candidates running for senate or congress, the ones who are more likely to come knocking at your door or ringing at your phone in order to win your vote in three weeks time. there may be lots of things that it would take to win your vote [even if you're decided on the presidential race, you can always split your vote down-ballot], but if mental health is important to you for any reason, i highly suggest approaching them with some tough questions on what they'll do to solve what could rightly be called a crisis.

but first of all, let's look at what the parties have to say on an official basis. i was happily surprised to find out that both parties actually do address the need for improved mental health care in their platforms. that was not the case in my country, where only one of five parties had anything to say on the subject at all. so bravo to both democrats and republicans right off for recognising that the issue deserves their attention.

democrats :: they are committed to attaining comprehensive basic coverage in many areas, including mental health, expanding on the existing platform of the affordable health care act. they particularly support the expansion of community healthcare centres, and promise to double the federal funding given to them. that sounds great, but the promise is actually to double funding over the next ten years, during which time there will be one more federal election, four congressional elections and an entire cycle of senate elections [meaning every seat will be up for grabs at least once]. it's hard to make promises over that period of time in america without some pretty serious bipartisan work. they also commit to greatly expanding access to care for substance abuse of all sorts, to veterans and to children. they intend to pursue a "zero suicide" commitment promoted by the department of health and human services. with regard to gun control policies, and pretty much the only time that you hear mental health mentioned in the american media is when there's a mass shooting, their position is that there "is insufficient research on effective gun prevention policies" and they support giving the centres for disease control and prevention resources to allow them to further research gun control as a public health issue.

republicans :: they strongly support a system of block grants [a sum of money transferred to state or local jurisdictions] in order to deal with their particular problems. block grants are given with only very general parameters, and give considerable leeway to the receiver to make decisions on how this is to be spent. their position is that federal mandates are wasteful, and that allowing decisions to be made at a state level will allow for more innovation. they oppose the use of federal funds in psychiatric screening programs for young people in school [especially where it concerns sexual education]. they make a strong commitment to fighting substance abuse, including abuse of prescription opioids, and propose measures such as  limiting medicaid patients to getting prescriptions at one pharmacy so that they cannot double-dip, and to protect doctors from legal action if they refuse to provide prescriptions for drugs with known addiction potential. in order to combat prescription drug addiction, particularly among veterans, the party recommends exploring a broader range of options for treatment, "including faith-based programs".

so now that you know the party positions [psst- those links go to the entire platform document for both parties, so you can actually read their positions on everything], here are a few questions i'd recommend asking anyone who tries to convince you're their best option for government:


  • [culled directly from my canadian post, because it's just as relevant, if not more so] patients with serious mental disorders are disproportionately poor, but often require more types of medication or higher dosages of medication than others. what will your party do to ensure that these people are able to afford their prescriptions, including meeting the needs of those who are homeless?
  • two pieces of legislation on mental health reform are currently before congress, one has passed its congressional vote and needs to be approved by the senate. the other has been introduced in the senate, but has yet to be put to a vote. do you support one or both of these bills? what can you do personally to expedite either their passage or revision? 
  • although the united states has one of the highest rates of mental illness in the world, it ranks far lower than other countries in the effectiveness and accessibility of its treatment for mental health issues, including countries with far fewer financial and infrastructure resources. what evidence does your party have that their approach to these issues has been successful in the past, especially in areas where quality and access are better? [you can read a post about that subject right here.]
  • after many mass shootings, it is commonplace for the mental health of the perpetrator to be questioned. however, taken on the whole, people with mental illnesses are no more likely than others to commit violent crimes. do you and your party support changing existing laws to limit access to any firearms for those who have had mental health issues in the past? why or why not? 
  • although the numbers are not tracked, it's estimated that half the people shot by police have some history of mental illness and that mentally ill people who are shot by police are more likely to die as a result of their wounds. police and other first responders are often confronted with the mental illness in its most serious forms, and bad decisions in these situations can have tragic consequences. what will your party do to ensure that first responders of all sorts have proper and regular training on dealing with people who have mental illnesses? 
  • it's been reported that there are more people in prison with mental illnesses than there are in hospitals with the same illnesses. how does your party plan to address and correct this problem? 


honestly, these questions are going to be tricky for a lot of politicians to answer on the fly, so don't think they're disinterested just because they can't come up with talking points on the spot. ask that they get back to you, or ask for the phone number or email address of someone that you can contact with their organisation. when you do have the opportunity to speak to them, or someone authorised to speak on their behalf, make yourself a few notes on what their official party platform is. neither platform is detailed enough to address any of these questions, so if they're trying to blow you off by just spouting the party line, you can feel free to call them on it.

of course, you can and should ask whatever questions you want, but i am truly sick of having mental illness trotted out only when it's a convenient excuse for a [white] mass shooter. it is a problem and if these men and women are so convinced they can solve america's problems, this is as good a place as any for them to show that they can do it.

godspeed, my southern neighbours. make them work for your support, now and always.

13 October 2016

i know all about you

the more i watch political coverage [and, as you've probably guessed, it's a lot], the more i start to wonder about trump's supporters. a friend sent me this brilliant article yesterday, which explains a lot of the frustration and anger that comes out of the people who are supporting the man who promises to "make america great again": poor whites, college educated white men struggling to maintain their tenuous hold on the middle class, evangelical voters for whom the city is a place that embraces everything they stand against. it's a compassionate article that helps explain the position of trump voters in a way that not enough people have done. yes, many of those people, whose anger is being weaponised by this campaign, are scary as hell. but that does mean that they have no business being angry to begin with. 

but there are a lot of other things that need to be said about people who are supporting trump, because if we don't say them, we're essentially saying that most of them are too dumb to make other decisions and that they just aren't capable of doing any better. i'm going to say that i don't believe that. i think that there are ways in which every one of his supporters can and should be thinking about their decision to back this man, and i believe that all of them are capable of thinking about these things. because there are a few things that i immediately know about a person who says they're a trump supporter, and they're not pretty. 

you want things to be easy for you. sure, you might work hard, but the fact is that you believe that your problems have a simple solution, like someone could just flick a switch and everything would be better for you. that's a ridiculous point of view. yes, problems can be solved, but if you believe that just electing the right guy as president is the way to do that, you're sadly mistaken. "fixing" things for americans is a big project and it involves more than just the guy at the top. but because you don't want to think too hard or work too hard for change, you're happy to listen to someone who just promises to "make america great again" peppered with a few phrases that don't actually link to any real policies, outside of building a wall. you probably believe that accomplishing any big goals takes hard work, but on a larger scale, you just don't want to bother. donald trump is going to hit the light switch and *poof*

you're gullible. as much as you hear people talk about lying politicians and how they're fed up with washington, that cynicism is entirely a posture, because when someone like trump comes along, you just lap up what he says. trump lies virtually every time he opens his mouth. he's not even good at it. he claims he's never said things when there are tapes of him saying them, clear as day. he comes up with policies like building a border wall, despite the fact that most illegal immigrants in the united states arrive there on legitimate visas and then just don't leave after the visa expires. he sticks with that plan because it's a great slogan to shout ["build the wall! build the wall!"], even though the logistics of actually building such a thing have been debunked by the people who'd have to figure it out. he says that he'll stop china from manipulating their currency and fight them on unfair trade practices. but he doesn't mention that the united states, under obama, have gone to international trade arbitrators more than thirty times to protest china's unfair trade practices and that they've won every single one of those cases. he also neglects to mention that china holds more u.s. debt than any country except japan, so they go into negotiations with a huge bargaining chip- if the u.s. really wants to play hardball, china can call in their loans. that would be devastating for both economies, but in the end, it's china that has the upper hand. take that finely honed skepticism you have for washington and apply it to everything in the political sphere. 

you want to be led. there are many challenges facing us right now and you're probably scared, but let's be clear: donald trump has talked about jailing political rivals, using the attorney general to investigate a judge he doesn't like, clamping down on journalism he doesn't like and establishing a deportation force to find and remove illegal immigrants. those aren't incidental things; they're an important part of his overall platform which has focused on what he alone will do to change america. you don't hear trump talk about his team, or about who he'll work with to accomplish things. he's going to do all this himself and shut down those he doesn't like. that, my friends, is an autocrat and if you're supporting him, you are subscribing to the belief that you are better off giving power to someone who will limit freedoms and conduct the business of state based on his personal feelings, with little consultation. [you need only look at the way his campaign is being run to get a sense of how willing he is to listen to the opinions of others.] you will give up many of the freedoms you have now in order to have someone at the top doing things his way, so that you don't have to think about it. you're afraid of what happens when you try to act out that whole democracy thing. 

if you're not an outright racist or sexist, you don't have any real problem with those things. let me be clear about this: all those people who walked away from donald trump because they heard him say "pussy" are assholes. if that's the thing that suddenly made you change your mind about him, that's just pathetic. if you've supported him for one minute after he said the mexican government was sending their rapists and murderers across the border illegally, it means that you're willing to forgive racism in the interests of... making america great or something. trump has targeted syrian refugees- people driven out of their country by a civil war that can be laid largely on the doorstep of united states foreign policy. the charge that trump raped a thirteen year old [which has just been allowed to proceed in court] had been floating around for months before his lewd comments on the bus. so have all his comments on howard stern's radio show. the civil rights case over denying non-whites the right to live in his company's buildings has been widely known for years. he planted his foot on the political scene by questioning the legitimacy of america's first black president for years after the man had produced a birth certificate. everyone has flaws? sure. and we all have our own principles about which flaws are acceptable and which ones aren't. if you're supporting trump, racism and misogyny are acceptable vices for you. 

the usual reaction to this sort of criticism is to make a list of all the things hillary clinton has done wrong. to which i say: so don't vote for her. if you hate her that much, if her hawkish policy on libya, for instance, is a breaking point because of the misery it caused, that's understandable. vote for a third party. write in someone else's name. focus on electing good people to congress, which is where the legislation comes from anyway. but if you are willing to vote for trump, do so knowing what that reveals about you, and think about what the politics of fear and scapegoating are turning you into. i'm not writing this from a position of superiority. i'm not trying to be patronizing and say "you poor things, you're too ill-educated and naive to know any better". i think that any person is capable of doing better than this, it's just that so many of them aren't. 

11 October 2016

mental health mondays :: all about us

take it easy.
i've fallen desperately behind on a number of projects, which means that i'm very, very late posting this week's mhm. even worse, i don't really have much to say today, but i couldn't let things slide, because october 10th is/ was the world health organisation's "world mental health day".

the theme this year is "psychological first aid". fortunately, this is a subject on which i've already posted, so it's like i have a contribution ready to go. but that said, there are far better articles available from the who.

this week was supposed to be reserved for a specific post, which i'll be doing next week instead. last year, i did a special "vote with your crazy" post on evaluating the major political parties' stances and plans on mental health and suggesting questions for politicians who come canvassing for your votes. so next week's post is going to be "vote with your crazy :: the american version". i'm delaying it because i decided that, rather than just include the "big two", i'd look at what the libertarian and green parties had to say on the subject as well. so i have to do some homework on their platforms.

in the meantime, i wish you a peaceful mental health day... not too happy and exciting, because that can be dangerous, but not dull, depressing or disheartening. just calm, relaxing and uncomplicated, like the image above. 

08 October 2016

the art of the feel

you knew i wasn't going to let this go without saying something [coincidentally, that's the line that donald trump uses to hit on women after he grabs them].

unlike a lot of people, i was actually kind of surprised by this one, not because he said what he said, of course, but that a man so accustomed to media culture would be so cavalier to say such things knowing he had a mic strapped to him. i'm not saying he knew the mic was live, but that's the thing about microphones- you don't know when the sound guy has turned them on, so it's best to assume they could be recording you at any moment. donald trump knows that. he was at least aware that it was a possibility that what he was saying was being recorded, and he didn't give a shit. because to him, what he was saying was no big deal. he knew that if it ever came out, he'd just shake it off as boys being boys, as locker room conversation or something. [in case anyone wondered why those quiet, thoughtful, intellectual boys from school hated to be in a locker room when they were forced to attend gym class...]

so when his tape came out yesterday, trump tossed out the exact response he'd had at the ready for ten years. hours later, he seemed impatient and irritated that he was being forced to say more. i don't know why that tone should have been surprising to anyone; trump was badgered into making an apology- an apology- for something he felt was no big deal, to appease the heads of a republican party he barely even pretends to like. that had to stick in the man's craw.

i find the spectacle of republicans, most of whom have gone to great lengths to regulate what women can do with their bodies and what they should pay [financially and otherwise] for their choices about their bodies, wailing about the necessity of respecting women to be every bit as repulsive as a presidential candidate talking pussy. take, for a moment, the case of vice presidential nominee mike pence, who has tried to force women seeking an abortion to view an ultrasound of their fetus before being allowed to go through with the procedure and who voted [as a congressman] against the act to make equal pay for equal work the law of the land. or looked at the poster boy for republican outrage paul ryan, who joined pence in trying to block the equal pay act, supported cutting off access to contraceptives and mammograms to women receiving social assistance, co-sponsored legislation to have a fertilized egg be declared a person, and voted for something known as the "let women die bill", allowing doctors to refuse to perform abortions when the life of the mother was at stake. and let's not forget mitch mcconnell, the first big republican gun [and, boy, do they have guns] to call on trump to step aside, but who voted against the equal pay act and refused to support the renewal of the prevention of violence against women act.

with that in mind, let's be honest what all this outrage is really about. let's acknowledge the problem that all these outraged republicans really take issue with:

"pussy"

that's it. it's the word. it's not the fact that he's boasting that he can grab women by the crotch because he's famous. it's that he used a word that's still considered pretty shocking [so few are] and not a damn thing more. one of the few solid blows i felt tim kaine landed at the odious vice presidential debate on tuesday was when he asked mike pence why he didn't trust women to make decisions about their own bodies. pence dodged answering, which was basically his technique for the night, but the question resonates, even more so today than at the time; men like mike pence, paul ryan and mitch mcconnell are offended by the use of language about women, because it exposes their own ugly attitudes towards them. trump is right when he implies that his language isn't outrageous, but if the republican party lets him get away with foul language, they open the door to the idea that his language isn't the real problem.

which it isn't.

i believe i've heard the word pussymore times in the last twenty-four hours than i had in my entire life before then, and i've loved cats and goldfinger for many years. #pussygate is trending all over social media. cnn are so riled up with it, they didn't even consider censoring the word until today [and legally speaking, i don't believe they have to, although they did broadcast other words that are verboten on the airwaves]. the entire internet is suffocating on pussy, but here's the thing: for once, the pussy is not important. why do you think i'm saying it so much? because i'm trying to numb you to the power of the pussy, because unless we all get over that, we're going to miss the real significance of what this man said. pussypussypussypussypussypussypussy. pussy.

all right? moving on...

there are a lot of things wrong with what trump said in that video. first and foremost, everyone seems to have missed the crack he makes about not being comfortable walking close to a man. this from the guy who stood up at the republican convention and said he'd support lgbtq rights and thanked the crowd for applauding that line. a lot of people have [rightly] jumped on hillary clinton's conveniently shifting views on this matter, so why should her opponent get away with it?

second, i think his fellow republicans need to answer the question: why this particular statement? why was saying that the mexican government was sending rapists and murderers across the border forgivable and this isn't? why is this worse? on the same day, trump was defending his call for the "central park five", young men bulldozed into confessions, to be executed, men who were later exonerated by dna evidence and a confession by the serial rapist and murderer who actually committed the crime. he is literally calling for innocent men- black and hispanic men- to be murdered by the state. again, i ask, how is that worse? the man has called for the armed forces to "take out" the family members of known terrorists and insists that the problems of the middle east could have been stemmed if america had "kept the oil" when leaving iraq, both of which are war crimes. what's on the tape releases yesterday is repulsive. but what makes it worse than any of the mudslide of verbal diarrhea we've endured from the republican nominee for president thus far?

well, there's a lot of racism at work there. but the most important thing, as far as the republicans are concerned, is much more cynical: blacks, latinos, muslims and human rights advocates don't vote republican. white, affluent women do. so this isn't just a case of white women being more important on the republican scale of "wrong" [although it is that], but of needing to deliver votes to get a republican in the white house.

third, and most important, there is the issue of virtually everything else that trump says in that video, the toxic wreath that encircles the pussy, if you will. upon seeing that the woman who is about to guide him to the studio he's visiting, he insists on taking some breath mints in case he "starts to kiss her". he says that when he sees a beautiful woman, he just starts kissing her, because he can't help himself. that's the logic that rapists and pedophiles use. they say that they're so compelled they can't resist. and no, i'm not saying that trump's behaviour is equivalent to rape or pedophilia, but it's on the same goddamned continuum. the other person in that equation, the woman, has no agency whatsoever. it is up to him whether she gets kissed or not. nothing for the beauty and all for the beast.

republicans can moan and flail all the want, but the idea that women should be subject to the decisions of men has been at the core of their policies for decades. which is why it's so hilariously, deliciously satisfying that the party is shackled to this sinking garbage barge, having no failsafe mechanism to remove him as the nominee. indeed, there is only one weapon left in their arsenal [probably obama's fault], which is to pull funding from his campaign. [no word of a lie, dom just called out for me to come into the room where the television and twitter have been running non-stop to say that they are doing exactly that.] does trump have enough money and enough backers to stumble through another month of a campaign to an election where his name is already on the ballots [a considerable number of which have already been cast]? you bet your ass [to be gender neutral] he does.

i'm typing furiously to finish this post, but i do want to make a caveat for two republicans who deserve credit: mitt romney and ana navarro.

romney is one of the only republicans who emerges from this debacle without a smear of a trump stain. yes, he sought and accepted his backing in 2012, but he's steadfastly refused to endorse him and has been at the forefront of trying to remove him. he's one of the few republicans whose outrage on this issue rings true to me, because this wasn't a line in the sand for him. he's been saying all along that trump's statements were... deplorable.

and ana navarro... she's a staunch republican. she's been an authoritative commentator for the party on cnn for years, but she has refused to conscience any of what trump has brought up. when he finally won the nomination, she cautiously said that she would give him the opportunity to walk back a lot of his bullshit, and show he was a different person, but i think it took her less than a week to go back to her previous position, stating that hillary clinton had not won her vote, but trump had lost it.

in the last week, though, navarro has taken it to her [theoretically] fellow republicans like a tornado. as aciduous as she can be with democrats, she has never approached this level of wrath and it is something to behold:



edit :: sometimes i think i'm a bit too eager to see the worst in republicans, enough that i forget when they show decency. in my list of people who haven't ever succumbed to the allure of trump [whatever that is], i should, of course, have included ohio governor john kasich and the "royal family" of the republican party, the bushes. kasich was notable in the national spotlight for offering a counterbalance to trump's vicious bombast and, later, for quietly boycotting the party's convention, held in his own state. and no matter what you think of the bush clan, there is no getting around the fact that they've been steadfast in their refusal to bow to trump's level, and several have made no secret that, beyond refusing to endorse the republican nominee, they'll be supporting former secretary clinton. 

i believe that the republicans have brought this on themselves. they have prodded the worst instincts in many of the "rank and file" republicans. they wove a basket of paranoia, racism, sexism and toxic resentment around their supporters and watched let the deplorable stew ferment. they were arrogant enough to believe that, in the country where the right of the people to bear arms for the specific purpose of overthrowing the government is enshrined in the constitution, that this could never be turned against them.

in the background, i can hear paul ryan, the republican party's brightest star, speaking to a crowd in his home state. he's being booed and heckled by trump supporters.

a year and a half ago, the republicans were certain they had a handle on their supporters, that they'd be able to manipulate them to march to the polls against hillary clinton with the sort of florid rhetoric that allowed them to win back both houses of congress and shut down the government. but there's an art to that, of knowing how far you can push without having thing snowball out of your control. in the end, it was the democrats and hillary clinton who had a feel for the limits of their supporters' tolerance. facing a similar sort of insurgency within the democratic party, hillary and the party knew when to stop. the art of the feel.

donald trump, talking about groping women simply because he can't control himself, and still insisting that he will never drop out of this race, clearly does not know when to stop and his followers will follow him to his personal masada without a second thought. but the only reason he can do that is because, for years, the republican party has not known when to stop. so when they're done howling about pussy, i hope they focus the blame where it really belongs: on the assholes who made trump possible in the first place. 

06 October 2016

shut up

the apex of civility
general reaction seems to be that last night's vice presidential debate was close to a draw, with a slight edge going to mike pence [other than among cnn's panel of independent voters, who overwhelmingly chose tim kaine as the winner]. i feel that's an accurate assessment, although it's largely a question of personal preference. pence absolutely projected the stoic, unflappable, unwavering image that many americans [not just republicans, either] seem to like and equate with strength. for my part, i prefer someone who's a little more mercurial, someone who's able to gets excited about ideas and who's able to expand on them, not just repeat talking points.

so, from my point of view, both vice presidential candidates were pretty disappointing. i found that kaine had a fantastic command of facts and history- he knew pence's voting record better than pence knew his and possibly better than pence knew his own. his opening answers were so smoothly delivered it was hard to believe that he wasn't working off a teleprompter. there was no question which man had the superior intellect between the two. but for at least three quarters of the time, he was talking about donald trump. sure, those things had to be done, but pence has more than enough weak points himself and kaine should have taken more shots at those.

pence, for his part, was a slow and steady ship. that's fine, because i think it's clear that that ship has set a course for 2020. unfortunately, a lot of his time was spent deflecting kaine's attacks about trump, which he proved incompetent at doing. it turns out that mike pence is an even more audacious liar about things trump has said in the past than trump himself, which has opened the door for an extended gag reel of pence's denials of certain statements at the debate, edited with footage of the actual statements. again, i doubt it matters to pence himself, because his plans are longer term.

but that stuff isn't terrifically influential in my assessment of the debate, because all i could think for 90% of the time i was watching was that i wanted to pump both men full of enough surgical anesthetic for them to pass out. for probably 87 of the 90+ minutes of debate, the primary voice in my head was screaming shut up!!!

if there was a clear winner in the debate last night, it was probably donald trump, or at least the sort of intellectual exchange that he represents: huge portions of the debate were comprised of both men almost literally screaming talking points over each other, as the moderator tried to restore order. there was not one meaningful or thoughtful exchange, not that these forums generally encourage them, but you'd like to think that someone could at least try.

kaine was guilty of repeated interruptions right out of the gate, although it didn't take his opponent long to match him stride for stride on that front. pence, however, had the market on facial expressions cornered, rolling his eyes, shaking his head or pointing a mocking stare virtually every time kaine opened his mouth. it was a sort of offensive spectacle, like watching two spoiled brats fighting over their toys while visiting an orphanage.

but worse than their complete disdain for the people who might actually be interested in what they had to say, was their utter disrespect for the moderator. i will warrant that she seemed woefully unprepared: despite the numerous tangents and "discussion" segments led by both men, the debate ran only a few minutes overtime, which means that the host [and her production team] had not come with nearly enough questions to fill the time unless the two men got out of control. but that said, both kaine and pence conducted themselves as if she weren't even there. they completely disregarded the actual questions and simply stuck to their talking points, no matter what she did to try to rein them in. in fact, both men, at different times, simply said that they would get around to answering her question once they'd finished saying what they wanted to. both tried to boss her around, telling her when she should intervene, when she should allow each of them to speak and when she should return to a topic that one of them wanted to discuss.

there was not one instance in the entire debate when either man heeded her admonishments to stop speaking over each other, or to return to the topic. they simply continued their incomprehensible shouting until they ran out of steam. several of her questions were difficult to hear because the previous speaker simply bellowed over her to finish his point.

some might say "that's politics", but it isn't. that's not even "infotainment" [because no one was entertained by that spectacle, believe me]. neither man may have hit the ridiculous lows of donald trump at the first presidential debate, but that can't be where we set the bar for decorum. these two are supposed to be representative of the safe middle ground, the space that most americans actually inhabit, where the national divisions are narrower. what does it say that they can't even have an even moderately intelligent discussion? or that, having agreed to a debate format where a moderator would serve as the referee and director, that they were incapable of showing any respect whatsoever? if that's the moderate middle, it says nothing hopeful about the prospects for the future.

i can say with nearly 100% certainty that the vice presidential debate will have no effect on the outcome of this election. however, its effect on me is that i find myself repulsed by both of them, not because of their ideas, because i don't feel like i heard any of them, but because, on their one big night, they couldn't even pull it together enough to act like decent human beings. 

03 October 2016

mental health mondays :: talk therapy?

we live in peculiar times, my friends. i could give you hundreds of examples [and you could give me far more], but one of the ones that occurred to me this week with regards to mental health is that we at once encourage people to be more open about their mental illnesses, as a way of normalizing these struggles and to help remove the stigma of having a disorder, while at the same time, our media is littered with stories of the scary psycho, the dangerous psycho, he tremendously inconvenient crazy person, or the person who seems just fine on the outside. to say that our messages on mental health are mixed is like saying some people like chocolate: there's a level of understatement that borders on deceptive.

so what should we be doing in order to have a more rational discussion about mental illness? you think i'm going to be able to answer that? ha ha. i'm flattered. not gonna happen. but i do have some suggestions that i've picked up from my own battles, from stories people have shared with me, and from my various types of research.

take these for what they are, which are well-meant suggestions. they are not proven strategies.

part one :: what should you do?

and let me make it clear that, by "you", i mean you who have or have had mental disorders, and me. because ultimately, any discussion on this level requires the voice of experience. but before i get started on that, let me get this out of the way: it is not your job to be the ambassador for crazy. you should talk to exactly as many people as you feel comfortable with, at whatever stage you feel comfortable doing so. it is generally a good idea to talk about these things with those you love and who love you, if only so that there's someone who knows what's really happening. what i'm suggesting below are simply a few extra things that you could be doing if you feel up to it.

1. think of the details of what it feels like when you're mired in depression, having a panic attack, going through a manic or dissociative phase, having hallucinations, or experiencing traumatic flashbacks. don't concern yourself with the official descriptions; if you want to talk about the experience of having a mental illness, make it personal. most people have heard the "official line" about mental illnesses, but they can't translate that into human terms. you can be a bridge.

2. when it comes to sharing things at work, it's worth it to look before leaping. yes, in most places it is illegal to fire an employee for having a mental illness, but employers know that well enough to find a way around it. there's also fuck all to back those laws up in a lot of cases, so the most you're likely to get is an edict forcing your employer to take you back. if you want actual compensation, you'll need to sue, which can be expensive, stressful and drawn out. so before you reveal any of your health problems, make sure that you have a good sense of how the people in charge view mental illness. one survey of british employers said that forty percent admitted they would have serious reservations about hiring someone with a mental illness. so start from the point of view that you probably have, at best, a fifty-fifty chance of your employer wanting to help, versus wanting to find some way to get you out the door.

one "stealth" tactic would be to find out if other employees have taken leave for mental illness and observe how people reacted to that. i worked in one office where one employee was rushed to hospital with a work-related anxiety attack. i found this out because his divisional manager saw fit to share the information at a staff meeting, joking about it so boisterously that he [and a couple of the other managers] were reduced to tears from laughing so hard. at another place, some of the employees referred to time taken off by a coworker as "her vacation". yes, we should be fighting the stigma of mental illness, but nothing requires you to put yourself in a position of vulnerability in the name of social progress unless you feel comfortable doing so. and keep in mind that there may be no legal requirement that your human resources team [or whoever you speak to] keep your information confidential. company presidents, managers, directors and department members are never under any obligation to respect confidentiality.

feel free to call people on their bullshit as the situation permits. that can involve simply not laughing if you hear a coworker's mental health condition being mocked, or pointing out that it's a pretty unsympathetic thing to say. i've found it helpful in these sort of situations to politely ask what someone means, exactly, when they crack jokes or make disparaging remarks. at the least, showing some sort of resistance might make people less prone to making such comments around you. but it might also make them feel awkward about having done so at all.

3. when talking to friends and family, whoever you trust enough to be open with, don't pin yourself into being defined by your mental illness. yes, you should be honest, particularly when you're feeling overwhelmed or very upset. but part of asking people to understand your disorder is asking them to understand that you've always been the same person. getting so wrapped up in the misery of mental illness that you become a completely different person isn't helpful for anybody [caveat: does not apply to addicts]. people who really care about you should be supportive and interested and non-judgmental. but they didn't sign on to be a therapist and may have their own struggles when it comes to interpreting and dealing with mental illness. that doesn't make them a bad person. and keep in mind that a mental illness doesn't absolve you of being a caring, supportive, interested person. your relationships started as two-sided and they should remain so, even if you're needier for a time.

part two :: what the "other you" can do

i've already covered this, and i don't really have a lot to add at this time.

part three :: what "society" can do

part of the reason why we struggle to answer the questions of mental illness in society is because "society" is a big, nebulous thing, that's actually not anything except an aggregate of averages. but there are aspects of "society" that we can address. specifically, i think there are a lot of things that the media can be doing to forward this conversation. so let's say that, for the moment, they represent the voice of what we call society. some of you reading this may be part of the media. or you may have access to members of the media. or you can interact with the media through facebook, twitter, or by showing up in their lobbies and shouting at people. [ok, maybe let's not do that last one, as fun as it sounds.]

1. get mental health experts to comment on issues of mental health. i should be used to it, but nonetheless it still amazes and infuriates me that, whenever there is discussion on the issue of mental illness, the media coverage includes family members of the afflicted and police, but no psychiatrists, psychologists, or any kind of mental health specialist. this constitutes an outright refusal to provide salient facts.

2. provide context where mental health is concerned. mental health is chiefly mentioned in the media for one of two reasons: someone with a mental health problem has been killed or injured by police or someone with a mental health problem is charged with a violent crime. when you use a vague term like "mental health problems" in a specific case, or if you just name the condition without further elaboration, you're doing a disservice. most people don't know the difference between various mental disorders and what kind of behaviour they cause. explain it. it's what you're there for.

3. don't contribute to the culture of denial. when something bad happens, a lot of people [*cough* nra *cough*] will talk about mental illness and the importance of dealing with this. stop letting that slide. in the case of politicians, ask what their proposals are. or ask why they think mental illness is the problem when statistics show that those with mental disorders aren't any more prone to violent outbursts than the rest of us. or just bring the subject up at a later date, in order to follow up. there is nothing to say that all news has to focus only on things that happened that morning. the best news agencies in the world do their finest work by stepping back and looking at an issue that isn't immediately in the public eye.

that's it. that's all i got. well, i might have a little more with regards to the upcoming u.s. presidential election, but that's for another post.

until then, do what you can, no more and no less. it's the only way progress can happen. 

01 October 2016

tongues, twisted

the more i've started learning languages, the more i've become fascinated by what i call the "logistics of language". by that, i mean, the ways in which languages develop, the ways in which they spread, the ways in which they are related and the ways in which they are eliminated. i am fascinated by this chiefly because all of these things are happening at the same time, all the time and, for the most part, none of us know anything about it. consider that: language is not merely the method by which we communicate, but the method by which we think, and we have no idea what's going on with it.

a lot of us know a few basic things about language: mandarin is the most widely spoken, english is spoken in the most countries, greek and latin have had a huge influence on almost all european languages, indo-european is the largest language family. but there's a lot more going on than that. so this post is a compendium of fun facts and graphics about language.

there are over 7,000 living languages in the world.

source

a "living" language is one that still has speakers for whom it is a first language and/ or one that is in currently everyday use. about 60% of those are native to asia or africa. papua new guinea has the greatest linguistic diversity. if two people in the country meet, there is a 99% chance that their first language will be different [although it's extremely likely that they'll speak at least one common tongue]. more than 800 languages are unique to png, most of them spoken by fewer than a thousand people and almost all of them unrelated to any other languages on earth. because papua new guinea is still impenetrable, it's not clear how many of those languages still exist. unesco lists nearly one hundred of them as endangered, but some of the data on individual languages is from as early as 1950, or shows that there were fewer than 10 native speakers in the late 1970s.

the country with the largest number of official languages is zimbabwe, with sixteen. [you thought it was india, didn't you?] however, zimbabwe has significantly less linguistic diversity than most of the countries that surround it.

it's estimated that, by the end of this century, about half those languages will be extinct, many of them before they can be committed to writing.

but most of us speak twelve of them.

source

more than two thirds of the world's population communicates in one of the "big twelve": chinese, hindi-urdu, english, arabic, spanish, russian, bengali, portuguese, german, japanese, french, or italian. i remember hearing when i was in school that, within my lifetime, the dominant language of the world would be chinese and not english. that hasn't happened, and isn't close to happening. although more and more people are learning chinese, english remains the world's most studied second language by a country mile. english is an official language in thirty-five countries, not including [i cannot make this up] the united kingdom, the united states and australia, where there is no de jure official language.

you're gonna wanna click to enlarge

and if english gets knocked off by anything, it's more likely to be either arabic [spoken in a large number of countries with rapidly growing populations] or french [spoken in the second highest number of countries behind english, spoken on every inhabited continent]. but the fact is that with 1.5 billion people learning english, it's likely to continue as a global lingua franca for some time.

although the parameters of "language" are a little fuzzy. it's easy to say that "chinese" or "mandarin" is the most widely spoken language in the world, but there's a very plausible argument that chinese is not a language, but a family of languages, many of which aren't even mutually intelligible. this tends to get ignored, because written chinese is standardized so that everyone can understand it, but that kind of seems like cheating.

to this day it's unclear if hindi and urdu are different dialects of the same language, or separate languages. in this case, they are linguistically similar, but written in different scripts: hindi is written with the indian devanagari, while urdu, the official language of pakistan, is written with a perso-arabic script. so people speaking to each other in the two languages might understand the conversation, but, if they were raised with only one of the them, they wouldn't know how to read the other. [oh, and just for confusion's sake, there are five times as many native urdu speakers in india as there are in pakistan, so it's not just a national thing.]

most "colonial" languages [i.e., those brought to the colonies by invaders that became established as a mother tongue] are different between the old and the new world, but they all use the same script [latin] and they remain mutually intelligible. however, that's not necessarily the case within europe itself. witness the case of german:



even more complicated, italian is a language that's kind of theoretical. it was created with the specific purpose of unifying the various states and principalities that now form the country we call italy, and yes, everyone will know what you're talking about if you speak standard italian, but in daily life, the regional languages are many and varied. some of them are closer to other languages than they are to italian.



france started imposing its linguistic rules early, which helped establish the standard, but there's still a surprising level of regional variation, considering the size of the country [far more so than, say, in the united states, which is much larger both geographically and in population].



sadly, standard french has stamped out a lot of regional languages. these go well beyond the dialects in the video above. i played this clip for my francophone husband, and he had to admit that he couldn't even understand more than a handful of them, and even that took careful concentration.



in spain, most people do speak spanish, except that "spanish" is really castilian, which is the dialect of the province of castile and leon. catalan, spoken in the northeast of the country [which is also the southeast of the country, because geography is sometimes weird], is no closer to spanish than portuguese is. in the northwest, a lot of the population also speaks galician, which is not spanish, but which might be portuguese, depending on whom you ask.







even when we establish language families, we're a little loose with the definition. for years, linguists believed in the existence of the altaic language family, a eurasian group that covered groups from turkey to japan and korea. then japanese and korean got peeled away from the group, because no one could establish a clear relation. [and eventually, the two got peeled apart from each other, so neither one has a proven, accepted link to any other language.] even more recently, others have proposed that there aren't any bonds between different branches of the rest of the family either. rather, they appear to be isolated clusters.

the caucasian language group is an even worse example of linguistic laziness. this is a linguistic family comprised of northern and southern halves. the northern half is basically georgian, and has no relationship whatsoever to any of the other caucasian languages. someone just looked at one area of the map, decided that they couldn't understand any of what was being said, and figured that meant everything was related.

so there are thousands of languages, most of which are going extinct. the larger the geographical space available, the less variance there seems to be [russian has dialects, but they're not as markedly different]. and a lot of the basics we know about language is starting to look wrong.

but wait, there's more!

languages make good zombies. well, some of them do. at the same time that we are watching languages go extinct, we're bringing others back from the dead.

the most successful example of this is undoubtedly hebrew. it's sometimes called the oldest living language, and that's not "pants on fire" wrong, but it's pretty specious. hebrew ceased to be a living language a with in the first few centuries ce. however, it was resurrected as the official language of the state of israel and abracadabra, now it's very much a living language.

another example of this is the revival of celtic languages. of the group, only irish had a healthy status, but more recent efforts have seen welsh, breton and scottish gaelic knowledge improved, and the new life has been breathed into the dead tongues of cornish and manx. [also, a lot of people in northern spain and portugal claim that they are in some way celtic, which hasn't been proven, but linguists did  go around for a long time saying that turkish and korean were related, so what do they know? after all, spain has a bagpipe museum.]







i think that's all the fun i can handle for one night. but there's more than enough for another post like this. perhaps i'll even be able to write it in different languages, so that it's extra special confusing. 
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