17 January 2017

you wanna [highland] dance, mr. trump?

there's a story floating around about an inaugural poem written in celebration of donald trump's scottish heritage, which refers to barack obama as a "tyrant". it's a little unclear what's going on; the author is indeed an author, who does indeed write poetry. but it's possible that this is him playing a prank, and there's no indication that the poem was commissioned, or that it will be read at the [sparsely attended] inauguration ceremony.

that said, trump has certainly expressed an affinity with his scottish heritage, which comes from his mother, a macleod born in the hebrides who immigrated to the united states and married the son of german immigrants fred trump in 1936. of course, he doesn't have enough of an affinity with scotland to know anything about it, as evidenced by his tweet talking about how happy everyone there clearly was with the vote on the brexit referendum. [every constituency in scotland voted to remain. if they seemed joyful, it was because they were nationalists who knew the next vote on separation was in the bag.]

as it happens, i'm of scottish heritage myself [something that's pretty clear from my name]. in fact, we even come from the same area of scotland, the western islands, which include the hebrides, as well as the inner islands like islay, mull and skye. we're both descended from the lords of the isles, the norse-gaels [i've talked about them before] who ruled a lot of western scotland for hundreds of years. of course, my family, the clan donald, goes a lot further back than his, having descended from somerled, the first lord of the isles, whereas the name macleod only enters the books hundreds of years later. but that's ok, donald, you can still play. think of me the way you think of those manhattan bluebloods who still chuckle a little when your back is turned. you're admitted, but you're the social runt.

the donald's heritage in scotland is a lot closer than mine. my family emigrated to canada generations ago, although they settled in cape breton, which was almost more scottish than scotland at the time, so it really wasn't like being in canada at all. why was that? why were there all these scots suddenly pouring into canada? it's a sad story.

my family were driven out of scotland during the highland clearances. this was a wave of efforts by the english, and their scottish puppets, to disenfranchise and drive out the scots who resisted english rule, especially in the wake of the jacobite uprising of 1745. my family were tough. they hung on in the isles until well into the nineteenth century, well after they'd been stripped of their lands and reduced to serfs on the property that had been theirs for hundreds of years. but eventually, necessity won out over pride, and they, along with many others, left their ancestral homeland for the new world, choosing as their destination a tiny pocket of promising arable land that bore a striking resemblance to the rolling hills of great britain.

many, many scottish families ended up here. many years ago, a friend of mine was foiled in an attempt to look my number up in the phone book, because he couldn't figure out which of the macdonalds listed on my tiny street was me. and i don't come from the most heavily scottish part of the province. [both my parents do, although only one of them is scottish by heritage.] until very recently, people raised in my corner of the world tended to identify far more with the culture of their progenitors than with canada. we were a territory of castoffs, who were poorly served by confederation, but that's a different story.

that donald trump's scottish family is so recently arrived tells me something about who he came from. the clan macleod, as i mentioned, were later arrivals among the lords of the isles. the "originals" [those who could trace their ancestry to somerled, the original man to bear the title lord of the isles] were the clans macquarie, macdougall and macdonald. by the sixteenth century, the council of the lords had expanded, but the clan donald [which included an offshoot, one of the maclaines/ macleans] were still recognized as the highest "caste" among them. and at that point, there were members of the clan macleod. certain branches of the macleods were given to fighting with other clans, trying to establish themselves as one of the great families, and getting smacked down on a regular basis for their belligerent behaviour.

those quarrelsome branches of the clan macleod, however, did eventually come up with a way of sticking it to the other scottish clans: when the scots united in the jacobite rebellion in 1745, the macleods sided with the english and raised an army to fight alongside them, helping to ensure that the scots were roundly defeated and setting into motion the process that would eventually lead to the highland clearances- the forced displacement and conscious starvation of those who had defied the british. [something that would, by the way, fit the current definition of genocide.]

the macleods who had supported the english, of course, were allowed to stay in scotland, and were even given lands confiscated from the rebels. they were able to stay much longer, because they were not hounded out like some sort of disease. indeed, they profited from the misery of the countrymen they had betrayed.

so there's your little lesson in scottish history, mr. donald trump: your family has close scottish ties because they were traitors to their homeland, and complicit in the genocide of many of their countrymen. now that you've called my attention to that heritage, i feel even more comfortable saying that the rotted apple does not fall far from the family tree.

and in case you haven't read your clan's wikipedia entry, here's something i'd like to call your attention to:

The surname MacLeod means 'son of Leod'. The name Leod is an Anglicization of the Scottish Gaelic name Leòd, which is thought to have been derived from the Old Norse name Ljótr, meaning ugly.

air muir's air tir. per mare per terras, bitch. i know what you are.

15 January 2017

what're you lookin at? [the most popular posts of 2016 on more like space]

i'm a little late getting around to these, but i feel like i needed some time to decompress from 2016. various commitments meant that i had less time for blogging last year. in fact, i had fewer posts than any time since 2010, when i was rebounding from the great ignoring of this blog. [this was largely due to the fact that i was maintaining a private blog on myspace- remember them?]

the thrilling and surprising thing is that 2016 was also the busiest year ever in terms of visits and in terms of diversity [i.e., the number of different locations from which you visited]. is it a case of quality over quantity? i had a dream last night where everyone in my school was telling me that they hated me because i talked too much. so maybe there's something to that.

for the second year running, the most popular post on the blog this year was music related: 'so hip it hurts', my tribute to the tragically hip and their unexpected effect on me wasn't something i expected to write, but i'm glad to know that i was far from along in how i felt. and, for the second year in a row, i'm honoured that people stuck around to read something of that length. in a world where it seems speech and dialogue is more compressed than ever, it's heartening to know that the attention span isn't dead yet.

i'm not quite sure how to interpret the reaction to the second most popular post, 'critical failure', and account of my embarrassing collapse on "game day"- my first opportunity to use some of my newly acquired language skills. and if that weren't bad enough, 'so the world hates me', a post about me losing a blog post, also ranked among the most popular. i guess sometimes your purpose on earth is to make others feel better.

in fact, posts about language learning were much more of a hit than i'd anticipated. i figured they were too self-indulgent to find an audience, but apparently the opposite is true. of the most popular posts of the year, about five of the top ten were on this subject. of those, the most popular were 'tongues, twisted' and 'in peril'.

i was not so surprised to see that posts on the american election were popular, since it seemed like it was all people could talk about for great stretches of time. what did catch me off guard, however, was the fact that the most popular of them [the third most popular post of the year] was my recap of the vice presidential debate, 'shut up'. i put that down to the fact that the title itself likely summed up the mood of the people more than any other statement. in second place among the political posts was 'the art of the feel', which again gave me that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from knowing that people are willing to read a long ranty post.

one of the most interesting phenomena was that my cosmetics-focused posts 'making faces' drew a significant number of views, but each of them was about the same in terms of popularity. the most popular were my first ever post about perfume, 'making scents', and my review of urban decay's new lipstick line 'meet the vice squad'. but neither of those got significantly more views than others. the difference? no armani reviews. last year, those were extremely popular, but this year, there were just so many things launching that i never got around to armani's less spectacular [and often very pricey] offerings. although i only did one last year, colour analysis posts remain extremely popular. note to self: do more colour analysis posts in 2017.

to that end, i'm making a few blog resolutions: i'm fully aware that i haven't kept up with mental health mondays in recent weeks and, in the interests of keeping away from the rut of pop psychology, i'm considering reducing the frequency of those posts. i don't want to eliminate them, because i know that they have a following, but, given the number of subjects already addressed, i'd like to focus on providing something that's well researched and meaningful. mental health monthly? we shall see.

second, as i mentioned above, more on colour analysis. no, i'm not a professional, but not everyone can afford a professional, and even those who can don't always have the opportunity to see them. in general, i'd like to shift the beauty posts towards topics other than just reviews of new products. there are far better reviewers, with far more experience than i, and who are able to receive or purchase products on a much more timely basis. and i'm much happier talking about what inspires the different faces i put on, and about the ways that colour and makeup can be used. yes, there will be reviews, but i want to make them a bit different. [fyi, this is my favourite beauty post that i've ever done. it was written in the midst of a bunch of holiday posts about red lipstick.]

third, i want to keep a sharp eye on politics and talk about it. i'm the first person to criticise others for only being interested and active in the runup to an election, and then i do the same goddamn thing on my blog. no, i will not look up from my microscope [except occasionally to learn languages]. i will stay focused and talk about things that i think are important in canada, the united states, and everywhere else.

despite the fact that posts on music have been the most popular on the blog two years running, i'm hesitant to say i'll write more on the subject. for starters, i write a lot about music on other sites. then, there's the fact that my tastes in music are very far from anything popular, so i always wonder how many people can really relate. we shall see.

beyond that... it'll likely be more of the same and possibly some things that i can't predict [because i never know when my next obsession is coming]. 2016 marked the tenth anniversary of this blog, which has always been an outlet for what goes on in my head. i'm too stubborn to change and do all the things that i'm supposed to do in order to have a really good blog. i can live with that and i hope that you can too.

i am so grateful to all of you who've stopped by here. every time you comment, share, mention on another site, hell, every time i see a new visitor, it's a positive experience for me. it's been a rather difficult year on the personal front. i don't share these things too often on the blog [honestly, i don't talk about them too much in person either], but this is my outlet. this is where i come to just be me and to share things that i find interesting, in the hopes that there are others who will enjoy them too. so thank you, always, for making me feel that connection.

welcome, 2017. i'm not sure how good a year you will be, and let's face it, that january 20th bump is going to make things difficult. but we're all pulling for you to make some good out of the crappy situation you've been left. godspeed you, little year. 

11 January 2017

making faces :: falling hard for viseart

viseart is a brand that went from one i'd never heard of to one that i couldn't stop hearing of in record time. it's been a couple of years that i've seen their pricey but generous palettes on the sephora website, on beauty blogs and on instagram, but it wasn't until the last few months [and some help from the gift certificate fairies] that i decided to wade into their refined waters.

the brand is clearly oriented towards professionals, which explains why all their products are in palettes- eyeshadows, colour correctors, blush, lip colour. i'm not a professional, just an enthusiastic amateur, so i initially started with their new [this year] six shade eyeshadow palettes, which are intended to be used without including other items. [whereas their larger, twelve shade palettes are built around a theme, finish or colour family, like bridal makeup or neutral mattes.] there are three of the smaller 'theory' palettes, one cool, one neutral and one warm. the cool and neutral options both look like good everyday palettes, although the cooler one also presents some great options for a smoky eye. i felt like the neutral palette was the more original of the two, despite the fact that i have a glut of neutral palettes in my house. the warm option is bolder than the other two and not quite such an everyday kind of assortment, and i found it irresistible.

the first [neutral] theory palette is 'cashmere', is a combination of softer, slightly burnished tones that occupy the space between gold and grey. as with all the theories, it has three matte and three shimmer shades, which makes it easy to wear for those who like a bit of variety and for those of us whose eyelids aren't quite as youthful as they once were. [actually, i'm fibbing. my eyelids have always had a creped texture, dating back to when i was in my early twenties, which was one of the reasons that i eschewed eye makeup, other than mascara and occasionally liner, until much later, and why i've stuck with higher end brands, which tend to be more forgiving.]

I'M PLACING A BREAK HERE BECAUSE IT GETS REALLY PICTURE-Y FROM THIS POINT

09 January 2017

mental health mondays :: the big lies

the phrase "the big lie" was coined by adolf hitler to describe an untruth on such a grand scale, one that could seem as all-encompassing and passionately communicated that it overcame its self-evident falseness and became accepted. the idea behind it is that the idea would be so ridiculous that no one would believe that a thinking person could make it up. he was onto something there, because there are plenty of examples of people believing ridiculous things. i remember being told in all sincerity that if you dreamt that you died, you actually would die. the question of how people actually evaluated that got skipped right over, because damn, it sounds just crazy enough to work.

is adolf had been born a hundred years after he was, he would likely have made an excellent purveyor of "fake news", something which has come to the public's attention since some have proposed that its omnipresence may have helped tilt the outcome of the american election in favour of eventual winner donald trump. people would see stories repeated on social media- often reading only the associated headlines, which are always written to be as sensationalistic as possible- and assume that the frequency with which they were repeated was evidence of their veracity. in their desperate pursuit of bigger audiences, the mainstream media, those who have built [possibly undeserved] reputations for diligent fact-checking and research, have occasionally been fooled by 'big lies' circulated on social media. the new iphone will have a hologram feature? you couldn't make that up! [except, of course, that someone did.]

but people don't depend on mainstream media to validate what they see, by and large. in fact, many believe that the media shows a liberal bias, a corporatist bias, or a conservative bias, whereby new ideas are ridiculed simply for being new. and those people get their news from sites that validate the things that they feel are true, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. and, in the election, trump's big lies about illegal immigrants being murderers and rapists, the real unemployment rate being 42%, or climate change being a hoax perpetrated by the chinese, had relatively little effect compared to clinton's much more banal half-truths about her hawkish record on military interventions, her shift in position on marriage equality, or her former support for the for-profit prison industry. [in fact, former secretary clinton has a pretty solid record on politifact, not that it helped.]

but what does this have to do with mental health? well, it turns out that there is some psychology behind the appeal of fake news. when it comes to politics, there is the presence of confirmation bias, whereby we seek out information that supports views that we already have, down to the way we phrase questions or terms when searching for information, making it more likely that we will turn up sources that reflect our point of view. the basis of confirmation bias is irrational, which sounds unexceptional enough- people believe irrational things all the time, right? except that belief in irrational or disproved ideas is one of the criteria for mental illness. and aren't we inundated with media images of people who are defined as crazy because of their belief in alien takeovers of the planet or massive government plots to do with placing fluoride in water? and don't such people feed their beliefs by placing an inordinate weight on the opinions of others who share their views?

there hasn't been enough work done on determining the point at which confirmation bias tips into the waters of pathology, but i suspect that the next four years are going to see that continuum tested from different points on the political spectrum.

however, confirmation bias only explains why we fall for fake news that we already agree with. the fact is that there are plenty of cases where we believe stories [like the one about dreaming of your death resulting in your actual death] that don't relate to our other views at all.

well, it turns out that we aren't just biased towards those who share our views, but towards those we normally turn to for information. despite the importance of tracing a story to its original source as a way of evaluating its credibility, one professor conducted a study that revealed people were likely to believe a story they saw on a site they turned to regularly for news, and did not generally bother to check the sources on stories from those sites. so, once we've made a decision to place our trust in a certain source, we stop questioning that source.

in addition, there is the bias i mentioned earlier, that simply seeing something repeated is tantamount to credibility in our minds, unless we make it a habit of questioning everything. in the age of the information glut, trust seems like a luxury we can't afford, and yet paranoia is still considered a sign of mental illness. again, the phrase "that's what they want you to believe" is a trope of the portrayal of mental disorders.

and even if you do have an inquisitive, critical mindset, the repetition of fake news is likely to have an effect anyway, just because your mind starts to accept what it sees all the time as reliable information, even if it's something they would have questioned at first. it's a known psychological phenomenon called the 'continuous influence effect'. it's like our brains' tendency to fight to establish credibility in media finally becomes exhausted and just lets the tidal wave of bullshit wash over us. it's not that we accept the specifics of fake reports, but we tune out and just seeing the words repeated starts to create associations.

the more fake news sites proliferate, of course, and the greater their influence, the more this comes close to being a public health issue. after all, if none of us are able to see the difference between good research and no research, facts become a quaint relic of a previous era, and we're all that guy with the tinfoil hat talking about how the sun is an illuminati plot.

i'm personally a fan of making media literacy a required course in schools and flagging sites that are known to have poor ratings from sites like politifact and snopes. [and for those of you who are thinking that you've heard of them making mistakes in the past, i say: those are just examples, and they're still better than nothing.] but those views are just pipe dreams. you know, crazy.

p.s. :: you will not die if you dream about your own death, i promise. 

04 January 2017

thanks for the memories?

i've spent much of the new year angry at myself, because i had a dream on the 1st [i believe], a section of which i remember thinking would make a great short story. i kept reminding myself that i should write it down, in case i forgot it. then i'd forget to write it down for the rest of the day. then i forgot what it was.

[many sighs.]

the people to whom i've spoken about this have been quick to reassure me that, if the idea were really important and really good, i would have remembered it, and that's the advice i'd give to someone in my position as well. but that doesn't stop me from fretting, because all i can remember about it was that it seemed like it was a good idea.

however, the experience did remind me that there are a couple of things that have been running around in my head for years that i've never committed to writing. the reason for that is that, as vivid as they are in my mind, they aren't anything in particular; they're little snippets that, at best, connect with other little snippets in my mind. they're not part of any grand story. so, if i spend the time writing them down, i'm essentially taking writing time away from something i could finish fairly easily, except that i keep forgetting to make time to do that too.

so last night, i spent several hours writing out a scene that seemed like it would take me a lot less time and a lot fewer words than it did, and didn't work on anything that i had any hope of finishing.

and now i think i understand why i'm always reluctant to let myself do this kind of work. it's because i'm just so very me.

this was a single scene in what i imagined to be a larger story, except that i don't have much of an idea of what happens before and only a spotty knowledge of what happens after. but because it's the first thing i've written that involved these characters, i felt like i was getting to know them, and that they deserved to be a little more rounded, even though what i'm writing for them may never end up connected to anything else.

every time i start to think this way, i know what's coming: i will inevitably spend far too much time researching little details that will never, ever be important to the overall story, because they're barely related to the abbreviated scene i'm writing. because, even though i'm fine with details like the primary setting being vague, i have this tendency to become obsessive over weird little offhand things that get mentioned once.

this leads to a lot of my writing time suddenly being turned into research time, because, for instance, i couldn't possibly live with myself if my central character was drinking a fanta in barbados in 1962 [on the day that her fiancé was eaten by a shark], only to find out the soft drink wasn't available in barbados at that time. [note :: i'm not using that scenario. you can, if you want, but please give me a shoutout. and you'll have to research the fanta situation yourself.]

so, in addition to writing nine pages of story [and, as testimony to the exact mental affliction i'm describing, i was compelled to open the document to confirm the exact number of pages, because i couldn't have lived with either an incorrect number or a more general term], i ended up doing some research on the following:


  • cocktails
  • artisanal jell-o shots [this is a thing]
  • the history of comic books in africa [as in, ones created and published there]
  • translations of several words into swahili


so now, i have nine pages that aren't connected to anything else, and if i ever do connect them to anything else, that something else, it's going to take me years to research, because it will need to be sewn with the seeds of these weird little ideas, because if it isn't, the scene i just wrote will seem like it was hammered into an ill-fitted frame.

i also have a bizarre assortment of facts rattling around in my head, stuff that will probably stick there forever, which is ironic, since the writing of this scene happened because i forgot an entire goddamned storyline. i know i should get over that, because it's gone, but the capriciousness of my memory is rather vexing. oh, and if you think it's frustrating to me as a writer, consider the plight of those close to me, because my memory is like that about everything, all the time.

i'm not sure if this constitutes a good or bad start to my creative year, but i'm willing to entertain the idea that it might be good, since finding the time to write anything is good. indulging these sort of detail-driven flights of fancy, however, might send me into a vortex from which i would never emerge.

now, if you'll excuse me, i've just remembered that there was another story idea that i forgot to write down, so i have to go and either make a note of it or think of some little background element that i can expand into a soliloquy on the culinary uses of radishes. [i haven't decided if i'm using that one yet, so hands' off!]

the image above is a character from the japanese manga/ anime one piece. the character's name is kaku, who has been turned into a kind of giraffe by eating a devil fruit, which is something that confers certain powers, including shape-shifting... he's not really related to what i was working on last night, although in a way he is. but not really. sort of.
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