29 May 2015

support the short!

read my shorts!
may is apparently short story month, which is awesome because short stories deserve more recognition than they get. and also because, for years, they've been my writing format of choice. i'm not sure if it's because i can't focus for that long, because i'm making a statement in favour of short things since i am one, or that i'm impatient to get things finished [any of those is a possibility], but that's who i am and i'm glad to know that someone decided that short stories deserve a long month.

so why not celebrate with your very own copy of interference, a collection of my short stories. you can purchase it in traditional or e-book form. it'll give you chills during the hot summer nights, which will make you much happier. all i want is to make you happier.

the book can ship anywhere in the world and you can enjoy it in small, convenient slices, at your leisure.

[big thanks to all of you who have purchased either of my books. you make me feel like a superhero, assuming that the world needed a superhero whose power was writing fiction.]

28 May 2015

armchair centre back :: the sting

i'm technically one "world wide wednesdays" post in arrears, but come on. how could i not post something about the fifa clusterf**k that unfolded yesterday? [and continues to generate aftershocks in its wake: as i'm typing this sentence, i just saw a news bulletin from the bbc that blot evil overlord blot on humanity fifa president sepp blatter has said that he cannot be held responsible for the current scandal. the buck stops somewhere else, apparently.] the whole thing feels like a sport-themed remake of goodfellas, but it's actually happening. and there's a lot more money involved.

like most fans of the sport of soccer, i'm no fan of fifa's. last year, i selected them as my "biggest loser" of the world cup and with good reason: despite the tournament having been a success on many fronts, it exposed the organising body for the corrupt kleptocracy that it is. i'm a firm believer that the attention given to the ugliness of much of the preparations- forced evictions, brutal police crackdowns, squandering of public money- helped speed up the investigation whose first results we saw yesterday. so like most fans, this is a pretty happy event, tinged with the cartoonish weirdness that always seems to linger around the world's most popular sport.

what weirdness, you ask? [or maybe you didn't, but i'm going to tell you anyway.] well, for starters, there's the idea that america is doing this. aren't they the one country in the world that doesn't even like soccer?

and, just to make ornery progressives like me even more uncomfortable, it turns out that america's jurisdiction in this matter may stem from provisions of the u.s.a.p.a.t.r.i.o.t. act [i've only today discover is an acronym: united and strengthening america by providing adequate tools required to intercept and obstruct terrorism act]. the act is better known for its controversial sections allowing warrantless surveillance, but other sections of it strengthened government's ability to collect information from financial institutions [and put a greater onus on banks to scrutinize transactions] and gave them greater powers to act against groups when any portion of an illegal financial transaction took place within the united states. so it doesn't matter that fifa operates largely outside the u.s. if they any part of the malfeasance took place in america, america reserves the right to bring charges. [and in a nice little cold war flashback moment, vladimir putin has accused the united states of meddling in affairs that don't concern it in an effort to penalize russia.]  

then, of course, there's the "goodfellas" aspect of the story, which is that the current arrests are brought to you in part by one of the gang members rolling over on the others. american chuck blazer, known for being a fifa bigwig and for pocketing almost literally tonnes of money from his work with them, got into a spot of tax trouble with the internal revenue service and, in order to avoid going to jail himself, apparently decided to cooperate with the authorities à la henry hill. [except that henry hill never got chased down fifth avenue while riding a mobility scooter.]

the spectacle of of fifa officials being escorted from their ritzy hotel in zurich [hey! i stayed just a few blocks from there when i visited switzerland!] would have been strange enough, but it seems outright surreal when you have people rushing to keep the arrested hidden with bed sheets. it's not like we don't know who they are.

strangest of all may be fifa's insistence on carrying on as if absolutely nothing has happened. they're proceeding with their annual general meeting, and one assumes that there will just be an awkward pause when it comes to the point in the agenda when someone can't do their presentation because they haven't been bailed out yet. indeed, sepp blatter seems determined to go ahead with the election of the organization's president, although that's possibly because up until tuesday, no one thought there was much of a chance that he could lose that election, but now he figures that his odds are only going to get worse the longer the vote is delayed. no, wait, i've reconsidered. the strangest part is probably that the person most likely to rescue the organization from the control of corrupt de facto royalty...

... is an actual royal. prince ali bin al-hussein of jordan may have lived a life of extreme privilege, but he has already made a name for himself as a reformer within the sport. he became vice president of fifa after the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 world cups to russia and qatar respectively and pushed for the publication of a supposedly damning report on the selection process. he has expressed a desire to increase the profile of women's soccer [the fifa women's world cup is happening next month in canada, but you probably haven't heard a lot about it] and that of asian nations.

up until yesterday, his bid for president looked doomed to failure, and this would likely have seen him bounced from fifa altogether; the asian football federation's president is the much more conservative sheikh salman bin ibrahim al khalifa [a nice gentleman who's been accused of having some of his national players tortured after they participated in pro-democracy rallies], who promptly rescinded the federation's support for prince ali as their representative. in order to maintain his position, the prince would have to be confirmed by the blatter-led executive of fifa and, since a lot of them aren't especially welcoming to ali's reformist ways, that can be added to the universal list of things that ain't gonna happen.

of course, despite the arrests, there's certainly no guarantee that blatter is going to be defeated. fifa has 209 member nations- more than the u.n.- and every single one of them has a vote. so the european football federation, uefa, can say that they are backing prince ali [which they are and which is hardly surprising given that they didn't even back blatter last time, when he ran unopposed], but that doesn't mean that they're delivering the votes of all their members. [russia, for instance, are opposed to the idea of having the 2018 bidding process investigated and possibly reopened.] the huge number of asian votes will likely be split, with some supporting the prince, but with conservatives like sheik salman supporting blatter. [the asian football federation has officially pledged support to blatter.] vote-rich africa is a blatter stronghold, although there's a possibility that hussein could pick up a couple of stray votes from countries who are not necessarily unhappy with blatter, but with his senior vice president and right hand, african confederacy chairman issy hayatou. [specifically morocco, who were angry that they were stripped of the africa cup of nations earlier this year, having asked for it to be postponed until the ebola epidemic had been brought under control, and togo, who were furious that they were suspended for two continental competitions, due to their decision to withdraw from the 2010 africa cup of nations after the team was the victim of a terrorist attack in angola.] the americas will be... weird. blatter was assuming that theirs were safe votes, but all of those arrested are among his staunchest backers [and all are from the americas], so it becomes a little unclear what will happen.

one of prince ali's most vocal supporters and one of blatter's most impassioned detractors is argentinian football demigod diego maradona. maradona isn't a member of fifa, so his opinion carries no official weight, but it absolutely holds resonance with fans. likewise, brazilian president dilma rousseff claimed she was happy to hear of the arrest of josé maria marin, the former head of the brazilian football federation and a supporter of brazil's former military dictatorship [who had had rousseff tortured]. a poll of soccer fans found that 80% of them did not even want blatter to run for another term, including 99% of those surveyed in chile, a possible indication that south american delegates may seek to distance themselves from him. [again, as i'm typing this, the brazilian delegate to fifa's convention has apparently left switzerland. no word on why, but brazil is apparently looking into the possibility that some of what the u.s. investigation has turned up could be used to lay criminal charges in brazil as well.]

compounding things is the fact that a two-thirds majority is required to win the presidency outright. if that's not achieved, then there will be a run-off election, where a simple majority will suffice. those who support prince ali [notably uefa] have said that the vote should be postponed [since any delay will allow the realities of the criminal charges to sink in and more details of malfeasance to come out, which would increase support for the challenger], whereas those who support sepp blatter [including the asian, african and north and central american federations] want the vote to happen tomorrow as scheduled. assuming that it does go ahead, there's a very good chance that between africa, asia and the americas, blatter could coast right through. on the other hand, if he falls significantly short of the two-thirds vote on the first ballot, it's game on. if it looks like the reformers are making serious headway, a lot of nations are going to flinch at the thought of being on the wrong side of sporting history [lest it be counted against them in the future] and could likely be persuaded to switch sides.

my sense is that regardless of what happens with the election tomorrow, blatter is toast. whether he's voted out tomorrow or pushed out in a couple of years as the u.s. investigation broadens and catches people closer to him in its net, his days are numbered. all that remains to be determined now is if he can hang in long enough to be able to choose his own successor. if he's re-elected, there's a very real chance that uefa will pull its support from the 2018 world cup. that doesn't oblige european teams to leave [after all, it's a uefa country, russia, that will be hosting], but it makes it likely that a number of them will. and it opens the door for players to take a stance, which is likely to work against the powers that be: argentina might send a national team, but lionel messi, sergio aguero and gonzalo higuain might choose individually not to participate. [note: i'm not saying any of them would, i'm just using them as examples.]

ultimately, money talks and sponsors will have a great deal of say in how fifa conducts its business going forward. this is another reason why i think blatter is not long for the soccer world. already, visa and coca-cola, basically the two largest sponsors of anything are making noises that they're unhappy with how things are being handled. neither of those organisations is exactly progressive, but they are extremely conscious of having their brand tarnished by association. they aren't going to have a lot of patience with fifa on this, especially if they think that consumers in europe, asia, north and south america hold a negative opinion of soccer's governing body.

so what's my opinion [if you're interested]? i think that it may well be worth your while to take a nap right now and wake up before voting starts at 3:30am eastern time [9:30 local time in switzerland] so that you can watch things unfold. i guarantee you that prince ali's backers [uefa president michael platini chief among them] are on the phone every second, trying to convince delegates who have been on the outside that support for the candidate of change will ensure that they face the future from a position of strength, whereas blatter will be reminding them that they have already benefited from fifa's largesse. he's not wrong there, either: under his guidance, fifa has poured legitimate money into conferences outside of europe. i do think that prince ali has one crown jewel to offer, that will be difficult for any lover of the sport to reject without serious thought: he wants to expand the number of teams playing at the world cup. while that might allow those who have, in the past, narrowly missed out on competition to gain access, or it might allow smaller confederations to guarantee more places at the finals. the world cup is the most popular event of any kind in the whole world. having a greater chance of being represented at the final tournament is a very, very big carrot.

i also think that, one way or another, qatar is losing their world cup. the deaths of migrant workers and the de facto slavery in which those workers are held, the necessity of changing the tournament from summer to winter, which will disrupt all the major professional leagues, the fact that even sepp blatter apparently wasn't crazy about the idea of having fifa's grand prize bestowed there... i'm sorry qatar, but it's not happening. i hope that it happens sooner rather than later, since it will mean fewer people die, but either it's being relocated to spain/ portugal [if you asked a lot of soccer fans, i think they'd be ok with it being moved there semi-permanently] or possibly to the u.s. and canada.

finally, my guess is that if blatter doesn't win outright on the first ballot and doesn't come within close-striking distance [let's say over 60% of the total votes cast], he'll drop out. i can't imagine him actually hanging on to see if he can prevail in a tight battle, especially since the tide would appear to be going against him. but i don't know that he'll fall short on the first ballot. i'd like to believe that the fairytale prince has arrived to save the day, but i'm a born cynic and worry that he's likely to just slice open his lip on the glass coffin.

i do, however think that the american investigation, combined with the continued controversy surrounding fifa that there is an appetite for change, which is more than i would have said a year ago. that has to be a good thing.

26 May 2015

making faces :: foundational issues

i need a good foundation to fix all these problems
it might be the colours that catch the attention, but if there's one cosmetic product that everyone- and i mean everyone because i think it applies equally to men and women- could use, it's a decent foundation. a lot of people don't bother with it, because it really isn't that exciting. i haven't generally bothered writing about them, because, even for someone as interested in the world of aesthetics as i, it's not particularly interesting to talk about them either. they're skin coloured. you put them on your face. you sort of blend them so that they look smooth and cover everything. wearing bright blue eye shadow is definitely more noticeable, but if you want to reach for something that will trick people into thinking you're just a little bit more perfect than you are, it's a complexion product that you want.

leaving aside the fact that they aren't that exciting to write about [or to read about, since perceiving differences from one to another isn't easy, unless one of them is horribly wrong], the other reason i don't write much about foundations is that they're completely fucking infuriating. ahem. i mean, once you've started down the road of trying to find something that will give your complexion that extra hit of awesome, you'll soon discover that it's more complicated than filing taxes in eight countries simultaneously. lots of things offer a little improvement, which is why most people try one thing and, if it doesn't make their face fall off, they stick with it. but for some of us, we'll try something and be fine with it, but then we start to wonder if it couldn't be just a little more perfect [which i maintain is a weird expression, because if something can be "more perfect", i think that means it wasn't perfect to begin with, but i digress].

you could say that cosmetic companies are just coming up with new imperfections to make us feel insecure enough to buy a new and more expensive solution to our skin problems. and you're right, because that's how people sell anything: by creating a need for something we hadn't previously considered. but take a moment to pity the poor foundation-makers: matching colour, providing different levels of coverage, accounting for skin's moisture or lack thereof, accounting for the presence or absence of oil, accounting for complexions that may be oily in some spots and dry in others, accommodating for differences in skin from all ages, and for undertones, which can make skin of the same basic colour appear quite different... skin is a complex negotiation of genetics, environment, history and chemistry, so coming up with a great product for skin is like trying to pass all your high school science finals at once. oh, and you also have to account for the particular tastes of all your teachers, because everyone likes a slightly different look.

now that we've pitied them, we can immediately go back to complaining about how nothing works unless you're willing to make compromises. i'm all right with that concept in a lot of areas, but i really hate having to part with a hefty chunk of my sangria and sushi money to get something that turns out to be unsatisfying.

of course, part of the problem is that i am a very difficult woman to satisfy. that's true in many ways, but when it comes to foundations, my list of impossible to fulfill conditions includes:

  • something that doesn't emphasize dry patches on my skin, particularly around my nose, which is the only place i usually get dry patches now
  • something that lasts throughout the day, meaning at least a standard business day including commute time, say 10 hours
  • something that can be touched up without changing colour or appearing heavy if, say, i have plans after the end of the business day and don't want to [or don't have time to] start from scratch
  • something that will not start to appear shiny, especially on my nose
  • something that looks like normal, healthy skin: not "glowing", which usually means "greasy", nor "matte" which usually means "i dusted baby talc on my face"
  • something that disguises the pores on my cheeks and nose
  • something that doesn't collect in the fine lines around my eyes, or in any other lines that are in the vicinity
  • something that can give me light-to-medium coverage, because i've come to realise that i don't actually need more than that; basically something that can reasonably effectively cover the freckles on my nose
  • something close enough to the colour of my skin that i don't need to worry about having to cover every other millimetre of exposed flesh to hide the mismatch
  • something that doesn't make me aware of its presence

reviewing that list, i realise that it's a tall order. i also realise that it might be easier for me to find something to meet my criteria if i removed my nose, but then i'd be left complaining about the fact that i couldn't wear sunglasses to protect my eyes.

but the fact is that i want to keep my nose and find something that meets my stringent criteria because i believe that a great base truly does make a huge difference in a finished look.

three foundations, three absolutely and completely different looks

most recently, i've been trying the new nars luminous, weightless foundation. it's a new formula, the first high-coverage one from nars, that makes the following claims [taken from the sephora web site]:

Achieve full-coverage, lightweight foundation that leaves a natural finish. Highly pigmented and perfectly balanced, this breakthrough, full-coverage formula builds and blends effortlessly. Its Even Tone Technology instantly neutralizes redness and dullness, while it works to reduce discoloration for more even, uniform skin. Perfect for all skin types, it features Weightless Long-wear Technology, an exclusive blend from NARS with flexible polymers and treated pigments that move with the skin while providing 16 hours of staying power. 

i'm quoting here because it's just way easier than copying everything over.

now, one thing you clever folk might have noticed is that it says it's full coverage, whereas i specifically said that i liked light-to-medium coverage. yeah, you got me. i was really eager to try a new nars foundation and so i figured that this was something on which i could compromise. and, yes, it is definitely full coverage with even a small amount of product [believe me, you do not want to use more than a small amount of this]. if you look at yourself up close in a mirror, you can definitely see that you're wearing makeup. you can buff it with a dense brush to reduce the makeup-y look but it's never going to be invisible. the trade-off is that it does an excellent job of disguising redness, pores [double bonus points for this] and any unevenness in colour [in my case, freckles]. 

nars has nailed the weightless thing better than nasa. it's extremely lightweight and at no point do you have that icky "something sticky be sittin on mah face" feeling. i think that's to do with its oil-free nature, since lightness has been a hallmark of each of the oil-free formulas i've tried to date. but oil-free doesn't equate to "dry", which means that it doesn't emphasize the dry side-nose patches, nor does it crimp into the lines that happen when i feel forced to smile.

what more can a girl ask?
i've found myself drawn to oil-free foundations because the greatest problem area i've found is my shiny nose-beacon. no matter what i do, by a few hours into my day, i have a shiny freakin' nose. i don't want a shiny nose. i have no use for shininess on my nose. in fact, i get quite irritated by said shininess. so i have dedicated myself to the hunt for something that will win the struggle with the texas oil reserves that apparently populate my proboscis. hence the willingness to go for something slightly higher coverage.

when i first applied the all day luminous, weightless foundation, it definitely gave a nice, not-quite-matte-but-not-at-all-shiny look that made me confident i could go about my life without the risk of ships offshore mistaking the sunlight bouncing from my nose for a lighthouse. sadly, after a few hours [let's say between three and four, although it varies a little depending on temperature, humidity and how active i am, which is never all that much, but anyway...], el noso brilliante has emerged victorious and i'm back to blotting myself and feeling irked.

that would be me

i've been using this foundation for a couple of months now and i will say that there's a definite difference in wear in cooler versus warmer weather, but i'd expect that. the point is that, even in ideal circumstances- cool, dry weather and with me in a less active phase- i don't find that it maintains its semi-matte finish for more than four hours. [of note: it seems to perform a little better outdoors than in, as long as it's not steaming hot outside, in which case nothing survives.]

in terms of overall wear, it never comes close to achieving the 16 hours claimed by the brand. i'm generally fine with having to touch up within a 16 hour period, so that doesn't infuriate me, but i seriously wish that brands would get off these ridiculous claims. if i pass out in a ditch somewhere, i'm expecting that my makeup won't be perfect when i wake up. it's cool. that said, my light freckling was considerably more obvious in six to seven hours after application, regardless of whether i used the foundation on its own, used a primer and/ or set with powder. that's not enough, in my book.

because it's a higher-coverage product, i was a little concerned that touching up would leave me looking like i was wearing a cosmetic mask, but that's not the case. in fact, it's really easy to dab a little more on some critical areas [nose nose nose] and blend it in with a finger and it won't look caked on. that helps mitigate some of the disappointment with the wear time.

nars certainly ranks alongside mac as one of the brands with the broadest range of foundation colours. like mac and, more recently, urban decay, they pay attention not just to colour but tone, differentiating between those who run cooler and warmer within the same colour range. everyone needs to do this. i'd previously been matched to nars "mont blanc" in their "sheer glow" formula, which is their shade for pale people with pinkish undertones. with that in mind, and because i am immensely stupid, i went ahead and ordered "mont blanc" without testing it on my skin first.

as it turns out, "mont blanc" in the sheer glow formula seems considerably lighter than "mont blanc" in any other formula. compounding that, "mont blanc" in this formula is not so much pink-toned as orange. i tried it a couple of times on its own before realising that i'd made a mistake and deciding to use another colour to lighten it. i picked up samples of the two other options for fair-skinned ladies ["siberia", which is the palest of the pale and neutral in undertone and "gobi", which is pale with yellow undertones] and i've discovered that either is probably a better match for me than "mont blanc". don't take guesses with foundation shades, kids.

to give you an idea of how the different shades compare, here's an image with nars radiant creamy concealer in "vanilla" [which is a nice match to my skin and which i've been using to brighten the foundation], luminous weightless in gobi, mont blanc and siberia, nars radiant tinted moisturizer in "terre neuve" guerlain "baby glow"and dior concealer in "010".

all the colours of the rainbow...

yup, as you can see, "mont blanc" is probably the worst match for my skin of the bunch... strangely, though, i find that "siberia", which is the best match, looks more noticeably patchy after several hours wear than the other colours. this is probably because the colour of my freckles is deeper by comparison. "gobi" is definitely yellower than my natural skin tone, but i found that the fading was less apparent than with either "siberia" or "mont blanc". i have no idea why. my brain hurts.

the mistake in colour choice is clearly my own fault, but i will say that the cooler options of the foundation seem too ruddy to work for a truly cool [i.e., pink- or blue-toned] complexion. the warmer shades seem lovely. [in nars' defense, i'll add that this is the case for a lot of brands when it comes to cooler-toned foundations.] also worth noting is that there is some oxidation [i.e., darkening as the product is exposed to air] with the product, so that you'll want to try it for a few minutes and then look to approve the colour match. the oxidation happens quickly and the colour remains consistent after the initial change.

so clearly, my search for the ultimate foundation has not yet ended. i like this formula, because it is so light and because it requires so little to achieve complete coverage. on the drier parts of my skin, it gives a nice, velvety look that i wish held for my entire face [nose nose nose]. the combination of too much shine in certain areas and unsatisfactory wear time make this one fall just a little short for me. will i ever find a perfect match, the dominic of foundations? never give up, i say...

25 May 2015

mental health mondays :: alone time

when i was little, my grandmother frequently used to tell me "don't be a loner". as an only child possessed of a vivid imagination, i was used to spending time by myself and i enjoyed most of it and so i would mock her by saying that i liked being alone. she would warn me that loners were "weird" and no one liked them, but she was never articulate enough to explain to me why that should be so bad and, being a typically precocious late twentieth century child, i would annoy her by pointing out the silliness of her arguments.

of course, my grandmother was right: society as a whole does not like "loners". we automatically perceive a fault in someone who likes their own company. at its very mildest, it's thought of as snobbery- "she thinks she's better than everyone else". at the worst, the loner is a dangerous psychotic, a ticking time bomb because nothing good could come out of wanting to be by oneself so much.

the desire for social interaction is such a given that deprivation from it has been used for centuries as a form of severe punishment. solitary confinement in prison is considered so damaging that there are those who argue it amounts to torture and should never be used. ancient greece, when confronted with a criminal who could not be executed [normally someone of particularly high social standing], opted to banish them, which was considered on par with the death penalty, and not just because shoving someone out into the wilderness to fend for themselves would often be a death sentence.

and, if you do a little internet research on what science has to say, you'll discover that there is research to back up the idea that spending too much time alone is bad for you.

  • this eight-year study of 6,500 subjects indicated that social isolation correlated with an increased chance of dying.
  • a massive meta-study by brigham young university in the united states found the exact same thing: even those who enjoy their "me time" are likely to die younger than their more socially connected peers. 
  • a university of chicago study found that loneliness [not the same as isolation, but often linked] is a physical health hazard, raising the blood pressure at the same rate that healthy eating and exercise decrease it.
  • more university of chicago research raises the possibility that, when isolated, our immune systems become introverted, focusing on fighting bacteria on the inside of the body and neglecting to pay attention to viruses that attack from without.

so, yes, my late grandmother may have been onto something without knowing it. it is actually bad for your health to be a loner.

however, when i was reviewing the literature on this subject, something stood out. no matter what combination of terms i used to search the relative benefits and drawbacks of solitude and sociability, i seemed to end up in the same place: a lot of studies that show that isolation and loneliness are very bad for you, mixed with a handful of feel-good articles about how taking a little time alone can be healthy. i characterize them as "feel-good articles" because of their reassuring tone that we should not feel badly about taking time for ourselves [as if the default position is that we should], but offering absolutely no quantitative results to show that it could be beneficial. here's an example of such an article. here's another. there are lots more like them and they make very reasonable-sounding points. but it made me wonder, why wasn't there any science?

the studies above tend to focus on people who are very isolated, or who felt extremely isolated and longed not to be. but there is a paucity of information on what amount of time alone should be considered healthy. [the only study i found that even tangentially addressed the issue was done on adolescents and determined that a certain amount of time alone, even if it was imposed rather than chosen, was helpful.] the scientific information that we have indicates that being isolated is bad. fine. if i sit down and eat a half a kilo of dark chocolate, that would be bad as well. but there's also research that says i would be better off eating a small amount of dark chocolate than i would be having no dark chocolate at all. that's what's missing here.

it could be that such research would prove that even short periods of being alone had unhealthy side effects. [deprived of sensory input, our brains start going batshit within minutes as we try to fill in the blank slate that we're incapable of processing.] but in this case, no one's even asking the questions: can too much interaction with others have adverse effects? is there a point beyond which social interaction starts to be detrimental? can a lack of time spent alone actually be damaging? we're very eager to know whether there are good reasons to avoid becoming a "loner", but it seems like we're a little timid to know that there might be good reasons to spend some time alone.

truthfully, the idea that we should expect to spend some time alone is a fairly recent one: medieval homes were usually structured around one big, open room where everyone lived and slept. when the lord and lady of the manor wanted to get busy, they would do so in a bedroom they shared with all their household servants. from birth to death, a person could expect to be surrounded by others, and being alone was unsafe. there were those who lived in solitude for religious reasons, but this was perceived as both an extreme and a sacrifice, not a choice made out of the desire for some "me time". so it shouldn't be all that surprising that the idea still seems a little odd. but that it's still so stigmatized that no one even wants to investigate it seems to come close to a full-on phobia. [even the romanticized idea of the loner- a frontier cowboy, an artist, a passionate leader- carries the taint of the tragic.]

i envisioned today's post being a discussion, informed by scientific research, of how to achieve a healthy balance of social and private time. i was surprised to find out how difficult that was. i'm also a little miffed because, while i found out that i can be very social once i'm around people with whom i share interests, i still do feel the need to have my own space. i'd like to think that's not going to kill me. research suggests that i have reason to be worried, but the questions researchers are asking are pretty slanted.

it's like my grandmother is controlling the world of psychological research from beyond the grave.

i hope for all our sakes that's not true. but until we have more information, it seems like you might want to make a point of seeing your friends and family more often, unless you want to die.

24 May 2015

paranoid theory of the week :: are natural disasters being caused by advanced weapons?

you don't know haarp
when it comes to things that most people acknowledge they can't control, the weather and natural disasters have to be near the top of the list. yes, there are natural disasters like hurricane katrina in 2005, which were made far worse than they might have been from government ineptitude and inaction; yes, there is certainly a consensus that humans have an effect on climate change, which in turns effects the weather and natural disasters on a large scale; but most of us are pretty certain that there aren't any individuals who can just fire up a generator and cause a catastrophic earthquake. most of us.

in fact, there's a fair sized community who think that there are people who absolutely can do just that and that they want to use their powers for evil. [although, really, i can't think of how you could use the power to cause a massive landslide for good. i mean, even if you killed hitler 2.0, chances are you'd take thousands of innocent people, which might arguably make you the next hitler and defeat your supposedly noble purpose.] so this week's paranoid theory investigates: might these people be onto something? or is this strictly for the tinfoil hat set?

the theory ::

world governments, in particular the american government, have developed the technology to control the weather and to cause "natural" disasters, as well as some diseases and they are using it in soem pretty high profile ways.

the origin ::

have you heard of a rain dance? the plague of locusts? the hammer of thor? humans have clung to the belief that they had some measure of control of the weather since the dawn of time, and those who felt left out have been suspicious of those who seemed to have luck on their side.

more recently, a lot of attention has been directed towards the american project known as haarp: the high-frequency active aurora research project. started in 1993 and based in alaska, the research project's stated goal was to investigate the possibility that poking the earth's ionosphere with a laser pole could allow us to figure out when the sun was going to get all dyspeptic and belch in our general direction, because sun belches [or "solar flares" if you want to be all hoity-toity] have a tendency to disrupt our communications systems and cause a sort of instability our brains are programmed to fear.

although haarp was shut down in 2014, largely because no one wanted to bother to refit the facilities in order to meet standards imposed by the clean air act, rumours continue to swirl about its "real" purpose and how "shut down" it really is.

the believers ::

lots of them. venezuelan president hugo chavez linked it to the devastating 2013 earthquake in haïti. despite the fact that the money for the project was earmarked by alaska senator ted hughes [the guy who once described the internet as a series of tubes] in order to bring home the research bacon, the alaska state legislature wasn't sold on the story of what the project was doing and held their own hearings about it. former minnesota governor jesse ventura theorised that the project was actually a front for research into both weather and mind control [and was denied entry to the facility when he showed up to try to prove his point]. and award-winning physicist bernard eastlund claimed that haarp used technology he developed that was capable of modulating weather. nick begich jr., the son of a former united states congressman and the brother of a united states senator and a scientist himself, wrote a book, angels don't play this haarp, which is pretty much the bible of haarp-ist conspiracy.

[it also has some quasi-believers in both the european parliament and the russian military, who believe that researchers hadn't done sufficient research to assure them that untold evil wouldn't rain down in the wake of giving the atmosphere a giant laser enema. even the cbc and the history channel have done documentaries about the project that raise some questions.]

one of those believers is a little more interesting than the others, by the way, and i'll bet you can figure out which one it is.

the bad guys ::

the united states government- democrats and republicans. the military-industrial complex, in particular a massive defense contractor called raytheon, which has gradually gobbled up all the patents supposedly associated with the haarp project, and brought thousands of its own to the table. raytheon's motto is "customer success is our mission", which sounds like the usual load of corporate hooey, until you think a little harder about what it means to have a manufacturer of weapons and military infrastructure focused entirely on their customers' "success".

the evidence ::

remember how i said that one of "the believers" was a little more interesting than the others? did you guess it was the physicist, bernard eastlund?

dr. eastlund died in 2007, but his passion for physics burned strong until the end of his life. he claimed, in an npr panel discussion about building weapons for weather control, that three of his patents had been used in the development of haarp. no one in the government has verified or denied this, so we'll have to just call it "plausible" at the moment.

a little more unsettling is the final patent that he filed, shortly before his death, which contains a passage [viewable on his wikipedia page] that specifically mentions both weather modification and haarp.

while eastlund never came out and said that haarp was conducting research into weather control, or that the technology to do so had been developed, the presence of that patent is a pretty powerful indicator that there's something to the haarp rumours.

some have analysed haarp's activity in the times surrounding specific natural events [like hurricane katrina and the 2008 chinese earthquake] in an attempt to link haarp's activity to those events, but [as the author of the linked comparison readily admits], the density of the physics involved makes it impossible for the average person to work out if a correlation is possible.

there is documented proof that governments have previously attempted to build weapons that unleashed the awesome power of the earth and the elements upon their foes, so it's not like the theory itself is out to lunch.

the question of why a government would want to do this might even be answered in a u.s. department of defense press release from 2000 that emphasized their aim of "full spectrum dominance" in the military arena. and natural disasters have, sadly, been excellent financial opportunities for american contractors. those are two powerful sources of incentive.

but the fact is that the trail of crumbs doesn't lead anywhere. the cookie at the end is missing. the "full spectrum dominance" mission statement probably came off the table the second the two towers went down the following year, and eventually replaced with "we're not sure why anyone thought this was a good idea and we'd like to not get killed today".

the correlation between haarp activity and hurricanes or earthquakes isn't much more persuasive than my theory that i caused hurricane katrina by purchasing a map at the wrong time. it's very tempting to mistake coincidence with causality, but dangerous. there are lots of times when things appear to be related and are. and there are lots where they appear to be related and aren't.

even eastlund's patents, definitely the strongest argument in this conspiracy's arsenal, don't prove that the technology was developed, much less used, only that it was most likely investigated. not. the. same. thing. at all.

since it's been linked to all sorts of events, it's hard to avoid the feeling that haarp's "attacks" are perplexingly random. sometimes horrible things do happen to american enemies, but often, they're just disasters that befall some of the poorest areas of the world, like the earthquake in haïti or the tsunami in banda aceh, indonesia. in fact, such disasters can have the effect of destabilizing areas of the world that no one really wants destabilized [as began to happen in indonesia in the wake of the tsunami]. sure, you can argue that the military contractors are benefiting, but national governments [who still control the research] are incurring massive costs at the same time.

the likelihood :: 2/10

is the government looking into developing weather control technology? i'd be surprised if they weren't, at least to some extent. half the u.s. is in a severe drought.

has this technology been investigated as a potential weapon? sure, i'll bite. technology doesn't seem to be of much interest to anyone unless it can be used to prolong life or end life [with the creation of boners being a close third], so it's likely that the government tries to figure out how to use their research to do both.

however, that's a llloooooooooonnnnnngggg way off saying that the technology exists and that it's being used.

the conspiracy seems to become the victim of having reached too far: by blaming haarp or related technologies for earthquakes in china and iran, tornadoes in the united states, tsunamis in southeast asia and more, it's hard to imagine that there is a cohesive plan behind all of it.

the greater problem, of course, is that the vast majority of us can't even talk about this, because even the most basic science of a project like haarp is already over our heads. we could hear anything about this science and, as long as it sounded kind of plausible, we'd be fooled.

this falls into the "grains of truth" category of theory. there are a couple of things that should probably raise eyebrows, but there's not likely anything else. 
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