30 July 2015

literary #tbt :: marcel duchamp descending a staircase

dom suggested that i should do a "greatest hits" of blog posts in honour of throw-back thursdays, which seems to be what the kids are into these days. when i pointed out to him that i do periodically re-post content [because i'm lazy], he made the more specific suggestion that i re-post some of the stories and poetry i've published here, since that's kind of an important part of what i do. that seemed like a clever idea, so i've decided to take his suggestion and offer a "#tbt story corner". not sure this will be every week, but it's something i'll be doing from time to time. [if you like it, there's always a permanent page with links to all of the stories i've published here.]

i've chosen the story "marcel duchamp descending a staircase, because it's the thing that i've written that's gotten the strangest reactions. despite the fact that it's tagged as "fiction", i've had a number of people approach me to ask me where i got the information and wanting contact information for the narrator. so let me be really clear about this piece: it. is. fiction. i made it up. there are no letters, there was no mistress [or at least, not the one from the story]. and i'm pretty damn certain that duchamp's famous painting is not an attempt at mockery. sorry if that spoils everything for you.

that said, this is one of the few "funny" stories i've ever written and i've always kind of liked it. i can't remember how the idea came to me, but i'm pretty sure wine was involved.


Dear Graham,

It is with great sadness that I am writing to you in order to return your paper submitted for publication for volume three, issue two of Palette. Our reasons for refusing this piece should be obvious and, I believe, wholly expected. Primarily, of course, we are rejecting your analysis because it bears little to no relation to the piece for which you submitted a research in brief, namely, The Cubist Stair: Duchamp, the Body and the Space of a Modern Masterpiece. (I should add that, given that we published your preliminary research on the subject and had announced that your complete paper would be available in our upcoming issue, this rejection is the source of no small embarrassment for us.)

However, it behooves the editorial committee to explain our decision further. Palette is a journal of painting, examining in depth the history and present of painting as art form and we take our mission seriously. We believe that the arts have a far greater contribution to mundane life than that for which they are given credit. The arts in general are under constant threat from those who seek to denigrate the value of creativity in life and it is part of our mandate to protect the craft and gift we cherish from that attack.

It is not part of our mandate to aid in hurling of slings and arrows by presenting gossip as scholarship or by making mockery out of a piece that influenced so many and continues to captivate the imagination.

Furthermore, while we (with some reservations) encourage you to submit more work along the lines of our original proposal, we do want to warn you that our stylistic preferences tend towards the formal, the academic and not to the sort of personal “journal” style you seem to have adopted. Your own relationship with your subject matter may make for pleasant party conversation, but it does not make for a solid piece of research.

I am enclosing your manuscript and I wish you all the best in the future.

Best regards,
Mauice St. Germain
Managing Editor
Palette: A Journal of the Painted Canvas

My experience with the origins of a masterpiece
Dr. Graham L. Kimberly

When I first set out to research the once infamous, now simply famous “Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2”, I had expected to spend hours reviewing the notes Marcel Duchamp kept at the time he began his initial sketches for what would become a touch-point of the cubist movement (and would mark the culmination of his association with that movement). I had expected that access to recently unearthed papers, Duchamp’s de facto diary, would lead to a revelation on the mindset of this enigmatic, perplexing artist. Writing now, I am amazed at the extent of the revelation, but I am unsure of what my findings will mean to larger research on the subject.

First, I must thank Mlle. Matilde Proulx of Paris for allowing me access to the Duchamp journals and for serving as my translator while I did my research. Her assistance was invaluable and I believe her decision to make public the diaries that she had inherited from her mother will stand as one of the most important contributions to art history of the decade.


29 July 2015

world wide wednesdays :: friend and foe

a lot of people have heard of the kurds, but many of them couldn't say much about who they are or where they come from, save that they seem to be involved in conflicts all over the middle east, which is largely because they come from all over the middle east. the kurds are one of the largest ethnic groups on earth to not have a nation of their own. there are nearly 40 million kurds worldwide, with the vast majority living in western asia, spread out over four different countries: iran, iraq, syria and turkey. [side note :: there is also a small but significant kurdish population in armenia, although their numbers have dwindled considerably after forced displacements by stalin in the 1930s and during the armenia- azerbaijan war over the territory of ngorno-karabakh.]

the west has difficulty dealing with the kurds and their nationalist movement because of the different relationships western governments have with the countries where they live. there is a shocking hypocrisy in how they are spoken about, depending on the audience and this has resulted in a largely ambivalent reaction to their plight. at the moment, western reaction to the kurds is more conflicted than ever, but is perhaps reaching a boiling point due to the ongoing islamic state conflict. so who are the kurds and why are they so politically contentious? let's have a look, shall we?

the kurds are a people who emerged relatively recently. they were first identified in early medieval times as a distinct people living in modern day iran and iraq, in the zagros mountains and surrounding areas. they are primarily descended from the aryan tribes of iran, with some relation to turkic and arabic groups. mythologically, the kurds are said to be the offspring of angels and the most beautiful of modern women.

two kurdish men flanking a catholic priest
from the beginning of the sixteenth century on, the kurds fell under the dominion of foreign empires. at first, their territories were conquered by the persians, but shortly afterward, they were claimed by the ottomans, who held possession until the end of world war i. although technically under the rule of others, the kurds always maintained a certain level of autonomy and were allowed to keep their own traditions within the empire. early on, the ottomans were clever enough to realise that the way to keep the territory calm was to appoint a kurdish governor and to allow him to administer the lands as he saw fit. and the governors in turn did little to violate the traditional boundaries and customs.

by the nineteenth century, however, the ottomans had had a change of heart and tried to claw back freedoms that had been given to the regions of their empire. that worked out exactly as well as you might expect and in 1880, the first kurdish nationalist revolt had to be put down. its leaders were exiled to istanbul where, presumably, the ottoman government could keep an eye on them. however, the seed was planted.

the turkish genocide against the armenians is increasingly well known, however during that time, the turks also forced about three hundred thousand kurds from their homes and into different regions. almost half the displaced died because of the wretched conditions in which they found themselves, setting the stage for tensions with the turks that continue to this day. their history in the twentieth century has been one of periodic revolt and suppression in all the countries in which they live. and that's where things get complicated.

of the four countries that have a substantial kurdish population, only iran has had much success in stalling nationalist or separatist sentiment in the twentieth century. unsurprisingly, they've done so by giving the kurds freedoms within the state of iran, ensuring their inclusion in parliament [including the appointment of kurds to senior cabinet positions]. the iranian government was even supplying weapons to rebel kurdish factions in iraq for a time. of course, since the kurds are an iranian people, iran has had a much easier time selling the argument that kurds should feel right at home within the existing nation. and kurds represent a smaller percentage of the overall population in iran than they do in other countries. but it's hard not to draw connections between the fact that, while iran suppressed separatist movements in the twenties and maintains a staunchly anti-separatist position, they've had fewer issues with their kurdish population than any other country, and they've been the least repressive.

map of kurdish territories
in iraq and turkey, things are quite different. kurds make up close to 20% of the population of both countries and form majorities in specific regions. both governments have clamped down on the kurds with incredible force in an attempt to club them into submission and the result has been that the kurds have become more militant and more committed to separatism.

just after the first iraq war, the kurds in iraq, sensing that president saddam hussein had been weakened both militarily and politically, rose up to demand a separate state. western media were flooded with images of a bloody civil war, as the kurds found out that hussein's war machine was in far better working order than it had looked against the americans. during that uprising, many westerners found out for the first time that hussein had conducted a genocide against the iraqi kurds in the final days of the iran-iraq war, culminating in the chemical attack on the town of halabja [march 16, 1988], recently captured by iranian and kurdish soldiers working in tandem. this was largely played up in the media in order to illustrate how horrible saddam hussein was and how justified the united states had been in taking him on over his invasion of kuwait.

nevertheless, western politicians shrugged and chewed on their fingernails and wailed that yes, it was tragic, but what could they do? and while a lot of people suggested "how about you repeat what you just did?" that was more or less all we heard. the kurdish rebellion was crushed and saddam hussein lived to fight another day.

so why did the west, who had just clobbered hussein like an elephant stepping on a cockroach, hesitate to help the kurds who were fighting against him? well, for starters, most governments [although not most people] were quite aware of what he had done to the kurds in 1988, how many people had died and what he'd done to kill them. evidence of chemical attacks was later trotted out to justify further attacks against iraq, but in 1988, no one cared very much, because iraq were the good guys fighting evil iran. furthermore, at the time, the americans' greatest ally in the region and their biggest customer in the arms trade was turkey, and they had a kurd problem of their own. [side note :: only three countries, norway, sweden and the united kingdom, have acknowledged that the al-anfal campaign conducted against the kurds in 1988 is a genocide. in 2010, the canadian government passed a resolution that the chemical attack in halabja constituted a crime against humanity. that's small consolation considering that it came long after saddam hussein was executed and because the canadian government had nothing to say at the time about it, but it's still more than most other countries have done. let it never be said that i'm incapable of acknowledging when stephen harper gets something right.]

kurdish demonstrators in turkey
turkey's draconian handling of their kurdish population has been less well-publicized as turkey increasingly became friendly with the west. in the first half of the twentieth century, turkey had aligned itself more with the soviet union and iran, but more recently, it had shifted its affections, not least because the rebellious kurds had adopted a left-wing political stance. the militant wing of the kurdish separatists, the kurdistan workers party [pkk] was officially at war with the turkish government for fifteen years [1984-99] and most western governments have designated it a terrorist organization. that created a conundrum for westerners when the kurds were attacked in iraq, because the kurds on the iraqi side of the border were the exact same as the kurds on the turkish side of the border and, unlike the iranian kurds, both groups were determined to carve out a separate state for themselves. so offering military or even political support for the kurds in iraq would put the lucrative american-turkish relationship in jeopardy. america will take awkwardly looking in another direction for millions of dollars, alex. [side note :: leyla zana, the first kurdish woman ever elected to turkish parliament, was outspoken in her support of her people, even taking the dangerous step of using the illegal kurdish language while giving a speech. she was eventually imprisoned by the government for fomenting revolution or some such and while she was awarded the sakharov prize in europe while she languished in prison, the entire american reaction came from a single member of the 435-seat congress condemning her arrest and imprisonment.]

flash forward to more recent times. specifically, to the uprising in syria against the assad government. although the syrian regime had not been as murderous as either iraq or turkey against the kurdish population, there was still a ban against the kurdish language and hundreds of thousands of kurds living in syria had been denied citizenship, depriving them of even basic rights. no small wonder, then, that syrian kurds fought against the government when civil war broke out and, having been organized for some time, were more successful than other rebel groups. the syrian kurds secured their territory right along the turkish border and have held it ever since.

as things spiraled out of control in syria and the illusion of stability in iraq collapsed, a new enemy of the west emerged from the ruins: the islamic state. having fought hard for their territory, the kurds immediately let i.s. know that they weren't going to just back off in terror and let them take over. in fact, the kurdish armies in syria and iraq have been more successful than anyone in beating back the terrorist group and, while america and the west have stood like heavily armed deer in headlights, ready for a fight, but with no clue what to do. once again, they've refused to outright endorse the actions of the kurds out of fear of alienating turkey, but they're quietly aware of the fact that they owe the kurds big time for holding parts of the middle eastern fort better than anyone else.

kurds are renown for their eyes. now you know why.
very recently, turkey has finally agreed to step up its efforts against islamic state, however its approach is a little... unorthodox. while turkey claims to have bombed i.s. strongholds in the last week, it's also become evident that they're bombing kurdish-held areas. which means that their approach is not merely to get rid of isis, but also to get rid of the people who might benefit from fighting isis on their own. it's a weird and risky tactic, because the turks are counting not only on continuing domestic support [we'll get to that in a minute], but on the continued willingness of the united states and nato to look the other way when it comes to turkish attacks on kurds. that's a gamble on both fronts, since the situation is bad enough in iraq that the west doesn't have many places to look for help, and iraqi kurdistan remains their best option.

so why would turkey take such a risk? for that, we have to look at the turkish government. more specifically, we have to look at the fact that, while turkey has a head of state, it doesn't actually have a government and hasn't for a couple of months, because the party of president recep tayyip erdogan took a pounding in his country's june elections failed to secure a parliamentary majority and have been unable to establish a working coalition. much of the support went to the left-wing kurdish-based people's democratic party [hdp], who picked up a substantial number of votes from turks who are uncomfortable with erdogan's islamist [as opposed to secular, long the norm in turkey] agenda. erdogan needs to defeat the kurds far more than he needs to defeat isis, because it's not the islamic state that's nipping at his political heels. [side note :: it's been alleged that the erdogan government has much closer ties to islamic state than they admit and that in their desire to see the downfall of regional rival and secularist bashir assad in syria, they've ended up becoming collaborators with the world's most reviled terror group.]

turkey's point-blank response to criticism is that they consider both isis and the syrian kurds [who are aligned with the turkish pkk] to be terrorist groups, and that all their western allies do as well. so to their way of thinking, why should they focus on just taking out one terrorist group, when they could take out two? cue an extremely uncomfortable reaction from the west. after all, no one here has ever said that the syrian or iraqi kurds were terrorists, far from it. in syria, they were a trustworthy resistance to the assad government. in iraq, they were victims of saddam hussein, evil dictator. it's only in turkey that their actions have been condemned.

it's been hard to come by
and recently, there's a new wrinkle in the kurdish tapestry: the united states has started to become friendly with iran again. remember what i said before about iran supporting the iraqi kurds? that hasn't subsided. although the iranians won't hear of a separatist movement in their own country, they're not unsympathetic to the idea of a kurdish republic. [after all, the iranians have more in common with the kurds than they do with iraqis, turks or syrians, although they have supported the syrian government.] and the kurds, in deference to the fact that they have shown support in the past, haven't pushed claims to iranian territory as they have in other countries. thus does iran become a wild card in turkey's game of regional poker. erdogan is betting that the u.s. would rather maintain a good relationship with turkey at pretty much any cost, but it's no longer the nineties and the enemy is no longer a single head of state.

sooner or later, of course, the united states and their allies are going to have to shit or get off the kurdish pot. the idea of an american-kurd alliance is unacceptable for turkey, but it will become increasingly untenable for the west to express sympathy and support for the kurds in one country while outright condemning them in another. if the kurds can continue to fight off isis [although, now that they have to fight against turkey as well, there's no guarantee that they can, especially since some have estimated that they've already overextended the strength of their army.] that process might be accelerated if erdogan's party continues to fail at forming a government. that would force new elections, which might well push the balance of power even more towards the left and, by extension, to the kurds. as president, erdogan himself wouldn't lose his power, but he'd be forced to work with a parliament that holds a far different agenda. he might look to his erstwhile american allies to see how well that works out.

for the moment, events have reached a kind of standoff. the kurds who fought against hussein and assad and who have been successful against isis where other regional governments with larger militaries have failed, justifiably feel that they've done everything to deserve u.s. support. turkey, however, remains a powerhouse and pretty much america's only remaining ally in the region now that hosni mubarak has been deposed. no one can [or should] say that they didn't see this coming- although they probably will. the for america, nato and the west now is: are the kurds your friends or your foe? because they can't continue to be both.

27 July 2015

mental health mondays [rewind] :: problem or no problem?

mental health mondays is on summer vacation, but that doesn't mean that i'm not thinking about these issues. it's practically a full-time job just bookmarking and reading things for its triumphant return in the fall.

in the meantime, i thought i'd share an older post, just to reassure you that, yes, it's always mental health mondays here in more like space land and because the subject of mental health has been on my mind a lot lately.



perhaps harold has a problem?
the first time i heard about "social anxiety disorder" was in a discussion with my mother. at the time, i believe that both of us gave a derisive snort and one of us said "great, now shyness is a mental disorder". frankly, i suspect that a lot of people had that reaction, because many of us have some level of social anxiety. what we missed in the initial evaluation is that the important part of the name, however, is that the emphasis should be placed on the third word. disorder means that something is clearly wrong, that the person is suffering and prevented from engaging in certain activities that they would otherwise want or have to do. it doesn't just mean reticence or a tendency to withdraw a little in public situations. a few years ago, i was going out to get some groceries and i became so terrified of going outside, of having to talk to a cashier or even of passing others on the street that i had to sit down on the stairs to get my breathing and heartbeat under control. i sat there for more than half an hour, paralysed between the knowledge that there were things we needed at the grocery store and the overwhelming dread at the thought of venturing beyond the doors. that's when i realised my mother and i had been wrong to snort. it's a real problem. but our reaction did point to a conundrum: how do you distinguish the harmless personality trait from the disorder?

the first thing that needs to be acknowledged is that the two things are not entirely separate. if shyness is severe enough, it can indeed be called social anxiety disorder, so there is space where the two overlap. however, social anxiety is not only a disorder of the shy. many sufferers are quite extroverted, but their internal dialogue prevents them from being able to do so.

shyness generally manifests itself as a discomfort in front of others, especially strangers. shy people are quiet and can be unwilling to talk about themselves or their opinions, but they can be comfortable listening to others and participating more passively in a social situation. for a person with social anxiety, the fear of interacting with people is so strong that they'll try to avoid it whenever possible. avoidance is a key factor in differentiating social anxiety disorder from general shyness. when a person avoids doing things that are perfectly normal or beneficial [like going for groceries] out of fear. shyness, even acute, will not cause this sort of panic and debilitation.

another factor to consider is how the person progresses in social interaction. shy people may lack self-confidence, but they may simply be slow to adjust to unfamiliar situations. this is an understandable evolutionary holdover. unfamiliar often meant threatening to our ancestors and so remaining guarded around strangers or in new surroundings served as protection. people who are shy will tend to relax and open up a little more as they realise that they are safe and accepted. people with social anxiety disorder never reach that point, because their anxiety is not driven by a fear of the unfamiliar. it's driven by an exceptionally low sense of self-esteem.

people with social anxiety disorder don't just feel awkward in front of people- they feel judged. they are usually terrified that others are finding fault in them, because they find great faults in themselves. this is not alleviated with time and sufferers will often recall incidents where they felt they humiliated themselves long after anyone else. social anxiety disorder is characterised by harmful thoughts, self-hating and defeatist ideas that are projected onto others. people with the disorder believe that they are subject to greater focus, with negative consequences.

a final key factor in separating routine shyness from disordered thought is anticipation. shy people might feel uneasy in social situations, but they don't generally think too much about it beforehand. they might have a distaste for public events, but the thought of attending one isn't enough to trigger panic attacks. people with social anxiety disorder become stressed just thinking about social situations. the anticipation in itself is enough to trigger panic and dread [and this in turn leads to avoidance].

one thing that most psychiatrists agree on is that social anxiety disorder is rarely the sole problem for sufferers. most often, it is comorbid with other conditions, such as depression, where low self-esteem triggers a number of other issues. people with social anxiety will often "self-medicate" in order to overcome their fear, which can lead to substance abuse. social anxiety can also be symptomatic of broader anxiety problems, such as generalised anxiety or panic disorder. the presence of other disorders makes treating social anxiety more complicated, as you might imagine.

if you think that you might have social anxiety disorder, the good news is that there is treatment. the first step is to consult a medical professional for their opinion and diagnosis, but since talking to others might seem problematic, you might also want to take a look at the following resources:

the criteria used to diagnose social anxiety disorder
the liebowitz social anxiety scale test [a very helpful quiz that evaluates levels of both fear and avoidance in a number of situations]
a self-help guide to differentiating social anxiety from shyness

26 July 2015

r.i.p. flora

a funny thing happened to me back in 2008, when i moved back to montreal. i was in the city, looking for an apartment and i met a prospective landlord. he looked at me and remarked "you know, you look like a politician who had your same last name. she ran for conservative leader once." i realised immediately that he was talking about my aunt flora macdonald and was sort of shocked. my grandfather used to insist that there was a resemblance between us, but it's a very different thing to hear it from a complete stranger. i still can't see it [and i suspect it's harder to spot now that i'm dark-haired], but when someone says that without knowing a thing about you, it's sort of hard to tell yourself there's nothing to it.

i felt flattered, because i've always welcomed any comparison with my more famous relative. since i was very young, basically since i can remember anything, i was always aware of her as a slightly larger than life figure. she became a cabinet minister for the first time the year i turned seven. i was politically precocious even at that age, so i knew what that meant. to me, the minister of external affairs was responsible for everything that canada did with other countries, so she seemed that much more important. margaret thatcher, who came to power that same year, was the world's example of the powerful woman in politics, but to me, it was always aunt flora.

i was still very young when the revolution took place in iran, but i can remember vividly when the american hostages were freed, beaming with pride that my aunt had played a key role in their release. indeed, she may be best remembered for her brief tenure in external affairs because of the dramatic rescue canada's role in bringing it about. [i have not seen and will not see the academy award-winning film argo because of director ben affleck's refusal to acknowledge the role that the canadian government played in getting the hostages free. yes, that role was exaggerated at the time, however his view goes to the other extreme.]

flora was chiefly remembered today as a "former politician" because of her tenure under both joe clark [as minister of external affairs] and brian mulroney [as minister of employment and immigration, then as minister of communications, a job she thoroughly enjoyed]. however, the high points of her life, the things i thought made her the proudest based on my conversations with her, were the things that she accomplished outside of federal politics. she worked with charities and international organizations to the extent that my father [her brother] worried she'd run herself into an early grave. but i tend to think that she'd have been driven to an early grave from sheer boredom and frustration if she hadn't worked so hard.

in particular, women's causes were dear to her heart. she said to me that there were more illiterate women in india than there were women in north america. that's the sort of staggering statistic that made her frustrated, but also made her want to work harder on behalf of those women. she wanted them to have the same chances in life that she'd had, having seen first hand how far one could go, given the opportunity.

which is not to say that flora's opportunities came easily. it's just that she had a tendency to shrug at obstacles. i remember hearing of how she and a friend decided to take off to northern africa to see something of the world. two women in their twenties running around morocco in the 1950s was not common, but that's the sort of thing that she did. she was also an accomplished speed skater, which wasn't seen as a particularly feminine pursuit and she enjoyed skating on the rideau canal when she was living in ottawa. she created something of a scandal in the 1970s by wearing a pants suit to work in parliament. [a friend posted an anecdote today that no less than margaret thatcher took a pot shot at her for that.]

i can recall her telling me when she was in her seventies [in the late 1990s] about going to afghanistan and hiking down the mountain path into pakistan. hiking. this is the area of the world that's so remote that the awesome military power of the united states couldn't locate osama bin laden inside it for years. for her, it was backpacking territory.

around that time, she'd also gone back to iran for the first time since the hostage crisis, something that was quite emotional for her. she'd been blacklisted for almost two decades in the country before she was able to go there and whatever she might have thought in 1979, she grew visibly excited talking to me about everything she saw there, how beautiful it was and how much she'd enjoyed it.

my favourite story about flora, however, came from later in that same trip. she and her sister ended up traveling to yemen, where they decided to hire a driver and explore the desert. they ended up getting stuck in said desert as night fell, which was not something for which they were prepared. their driver was a devoutly religious man who said that he could not share his sleeping quarters [the car] with women and told them that they would have to sleep outside. let me remind you, these were women in their seventies. a lot of people would have panicked, but flora and her sister spotted a fire some way off and headed towards it. they ended up spending the night camped out with a group of bedouin, none of whom spoke a word of english. i've been trying for a long time to wrap my head around the guts it would take to walk up to a camp of strangers in the middle of the night, in the middle of the desert, in the middle of a country not enamoured of westerners and basically ask if you could crash. but that's what i mean about shrugging off obstacles. she approached the world as if she could get whatever she needed and wanted by being determined and, frequently, the world responded. [as you might expect, when it didn't, such as when she ran for the leadership of the progressive conservative party in 1976, it ate away at her. she picked herself up and moved on with aplomb, but i don't think i ever heard that leadership campaign mentioned in her presence at any point by anyone in my family.]

when i found out this morning that she'd died overnight, it wasn't a surprise. i knew that she'd been in deteriorating health for some time, and that things were getting progressively worse. but that doesn't mean that i'm not saddened by her passing. because i feel like i lost one of the few real role models in my life and because i feel like she's the sort of person the world just can't afford to lose right now. every day, we're inundated with stories from south of the border of a certain republican candidate who's characterized as a bold and independent thinker simply because he says anything inflammatory that comes into his addled brain. i choose to think of boldness and independence as flora embodied them: by living life on one's own terms, speaking up for others because you can [especially when they can't], but most importantly, believing in oneself enough to go charging into whatever experiences life offered.

so even if i can't see a physical resemblance, i'd like to think that i resemble her in some way. 

24 July 2015

making faces :: as canadian as a maple leaf

in honour of their canadian-ness, bite beauty has launched a limited, canada-only collection of five lipsticks in a new "matte crème" finish, plus a new version of their popular agave lip mask, all with the heady, addictive scent of maple syrup. [there's also a new opalescent lipstick and gloss, which are not maple scented, nor are they exclusive to canada. i'm a little unclear on whether or not these are also limited.] new bite lipsticks + maple syrup was a little too much to resist, which meant that i ran to pick one up the very first day they were available [which is now last week, because i've been slack about posting here this week, mostly because a couple of ferocious bouts with insomnia have knocked me flat for much of the last few days].

the five lipsticks available include three reds- a bright cardinal [candied maple], an earthy browned red [braised maple] and a deep burgundy [mulled maple]- and two "next door neighbours" of red: a bright, tangy orange [warmed maple] and a luscious berry [sugared maple]. i went for the berry shade, which is probably unsurprising to anyone even vaguely familiar with the beauty posts on the blog. i need another berry lipstick like i need to drink a litre of maple syrup with supper, but this was a particularly beautiful shade, so it just barely edged out the burgundy shade as my [first?] choice.

the matte crème formula is a little- not a lot- different from the bite luminous crème that is the flagship of their permanent line up. [when was it decided that anything creamy in the beauty industry must be expressed with the french "crème"? is there something about the english "cream" that is inadequate for these purposes?] both the luminous and matte lipsticks are very richly pigmented. i'd describe this new variation as more matte than the originals, but not something that's going to satisfy lovers of serious mattes like the mac "retro" formula. these apply with a bit of a satiny sheen that settles to "more or less matte" within a half hour or so. [for whatever reason, my lips seem to have a mattifying effect on lipstick. formulas that are quite shiny on others, like the nars audacious lipsticks, have none of that juiciness on me. it's not that my lips are dry all the time either. it's all very strange.]

"sugared maple" feels a little dryer than the luminous crème lipsticks i own, but not dry. "velvety" might be a good descriptor. the dryness isn't uncomfortable on the lips, but it isn't quite as forgiving as its luminous cousins. the colour application was just a bit uneven. i could get a perfectly even, opaque coat with a second pass and once i did, the lipstick didn't shift or fade in patches. it's definitely longer lasting than the regular bite lipsticks. it hangs on for several hours and leaves quite an intense stain- i needed to exfoliate my lips to completely remove the colour. if you're a bit shy of using this full-throttle, it would blot to a more muted, pinker shade.

sugared maple

and yes, the lipstick does smell like maple syrup, and not that cheap ass imitation stuff that quebeckers joke is made from the sap of telephone poles. it smells heavenly and very edible, which may or may not be dangerous depending on how hungry you are, which is why it's probably a good thing that bite uses food grade ingredients in their products. the maple smell is slightly stronger in the lip mask, which is nice, because the regular one smells like petroleum jelly to me. the smell doesn't linger terribly long, so if you are one of those weirdos who doesn't like maple, it's not like it's going to ruin your whole day. 

the colour of "sugared maple" is a cooler berry, leaning more purple/ pink [almost magenta] than red. if there's one thing that stops me from buying more from bite, it's the fact that a number of their colours seem easier than not to duplicate. that's true of these releases, but how close is too close is going to depend on how much you like the formula and how often you wear the colour family. mac "rebel" is quite close to "sugared maple", just a little lighter and cooler. bite "crimson", a limited shade from last summer, is lighter and redder. nars "charlotte" is warmer and redder.
l to r :: mac rebel, sugared maple, bite crimson [l.e.], nars charlotte

this is the sort of shade that doesn't require a lot to go with it, so to take it out for its first day on the job, i paired it with a fairly neutral overall look.

on the eyes, i have a combination of nars "dogon" and "vent glacé", along with yves st. laurent "sea black" effect faux cils liner. yes, i was playing around with coloured mascara again. no, i'm not sure why, because, while it seems to look fine in person, i'm struck by how weird it looks when i see photos. this is the same blue from marcelle that i wore in my hydragea-inspired look. the formula is a nice, soft, less dramatic look and it doesn't just appear to be an anemic black. i'm just not certain i love blue mascara on me at all.

i foolishly forgot to write down what i was wearing and as a consequence, i'm not totally certain about the blush and highlighter combo. i believe it's chanel "rose initiale" mixed with chanel "poudre signé". that seems right.

the bite beauty maple collection is available from now until october at sephora canada. the united states has their own exclusive "frozen berries" collection, which has five lipsticks in the matte crème formula, as well as the two opalescent shades. four of the five shades in the berries collection are different, however "mulled maple", the burgundy, is marketed as "black cherry" in the united states. that collection is also available until october, so this might be a really good time to get to know your friends and encourage international trade by sending each other lipsticks. [no, the u.s. collection is not berry-scented. just regular.] the maple lipsticks are $28cad, which is the same price as the luminous crème range.

p.s. :: the image at the top is the promotional image from sephora, complete with the pretty limited packaging art.

p.p.s. :: this is technically labeled a "fall collection", because for cosmetics companies, summer ends shortly before it actually begins. 

21 July 2015


and now the hard part
the non-news is that i had insomnia last night. that was probably because i'd had a short nap earlier in the day, which was a bad idea, but i was so tired i quite literally couldn't see straight [who knew that actually happened??] because i'd had insomnia the night before, because i'd dozed off for a little while in the evening after supper, because i was exhausted from not having slept the previous night.

when i did manage to doze off, i slept deeply and merrily, and i had a dream that, despite the usual load of dream-world non sequitur-ization and webby logic, presented me with an amazing story. all the writers' block i've been suffering apparently took the night off and every backed up idea in my cerebral drain came bursting through. it was exciting.

when i woke up [late] i immediately gestured to dom [who was just trying to tell me that there was coffee made] not to say a word, because dreams are fragile when you try to carry them and any errant arrangement of real world words can destroy their delicate connective tissues. i didn't want to be rude, but i couldn't risk speaking or hearing other than to say "i dreamt something. need to hold on." and i think that might be putting it more articulately than i did this morning. [but, as we've already seen, i need all the help i can get holding onto dream ideas, because i'm not helping myself at all.]

i don't know if i'm the only person who gets writing prompts while unconscious as often or more often than when fully conscious. i'm sort of grateful for that because it means that sleeping is doing creative work. i'm not being lazy, i'm incubating ideas for future fiction. [unless i'm having dreams about sharpening pencils. that's just my subconscious not taking its job seriously.]

there's just one wee problem with last night's sound asleep work shift: it was part one.

even in the dream, i became aware that what i was getting was the first instalment of a story, complete with cliffhanger-style ending. i'm not above ending stories that way on my own, but this wasn't one of those things. this was a story- several stories, really- that had just started to develop and promised a lot more intrigue in the subsequent parts. except i didn't dream those subsequent parts. i dreamt the first part and woke up.

earlier, i posted on facebook that i need someone to knock me out in such a way that i could continue with the dream, because my waking brain doesn't have much of an idea how to keep the story moving forward, at least not as well as it was moving forward without me thinking about it. i managed to take decent notes about what i knew and managed to smooth out some of the bits that didn't make a lot of sense without too much trouble. it's an awesome beginning, but i feel like if i add anything to it, it won't nearly be up to the quality of what i have. or rather, what i don't have, because it isn't actually anything yet because i haven't written any of it and i'm not really sure how to start, because that would imply that i knew where it was going, which i don't, at least not once the action gets going.

it's like my brain designed an awesome roller coaster, but the track ends at the exact point when the train picks up speed. and that's really fun for no one.

so now, i'm sort of bargaining with my brain that since i've made notes and started to come up with a structure for a story that i can start working on, maybe it could be cooperative for once and let me have the rest of the information? i have the distinct feeling that that's not going to happen, which means that i have to depend on my more logical conscious brain to do the rest of the work and i already feel like conscious kate's brain is overdue for a tune-up.

so, i have a story to tell you. and it's kind of awesome, in an unsatisfying sort of way.

19 July 2015

paranoid theory of the week :: did russia shoot down flight mh17?

it's been a year since malaysian airways flight mh17 exploded and crashed in the eastern ukraine and still, investigators aren't certain what happened. well, some people are certain. some people are very certain indeed, but they're not the people charged with uncovering what actually happened [not that they'd trust those people anyway]. a year on, there are still abundant, ill-documented theories as to what might have happened. i thought about trying to cover all of them, but i decided, no, best to stick with the one that is actually the least conspiratorial and most widely believed of all. does being widely believed mean that it passes muster? let's find out...

the theory ::
flight mh17 was shot down either by russian-armed separatists in the eastern ukraine or by the russian soldiers, more than likely by accident.

the origin ::
ukraine. newly minted president petro poroshenko was quoted in the associated press the day of the disaster calling the crash an act of terrorism and demanding an international investigation. of course, he wasn't the only one. as you can see in the associated press article, american vice president joe biden was already referring to the plane as having been blown up, even though that had not been determined.

the believers ::
most of the media. most western governments. most ukrainians. most americans who have an opinion. in fact, this might not count as a paranoid theory at all, because it's become the "official story". except that many of its greatest proponents admit that they lack conclusive proof. but we'll get to that.

the bad guys ::
valdimir putin. the russian military. separatists in the eastern ukraine.

the evidence :: 
"radical centre" media outlet the daily beast has an excellent recap of all the evidence against russia that you can read here. the key points include:

mh17 was flying at such a high altitude that there are a limited number of missile systems that would have been capable of taking it down. chief among the suspects is the buk anti-aircraft missile launcher [aka the sa-17 grizzly]. just before the crash of mh17, journalists with the associated press claimed to have seen a buk in the possession of the ukrainian rebels.

[note- these are amateur videos, not from the journalists.]

it's not exactly clear where the buk could have come from. the ukrainian army has them and rebels were appropriating armaments in towns they won, however it's unclear whether any of those areas had this sort of missile launcher. as a result, speculation arose almost immediately that the rebels could have received a buk from the russian military, or that there were russian soldiers in the area with the missile launching system. [although a few weeks earlier, there did appear to be some rebels boasting that they had captured a buk system.]the ukrainian security service released audio tapes of what they say is a recording of separatist rebels speaking to a russian military commander three days before the crash, confirming that they had the buk and that the russians were aware of this.

even more damning, the security service released a recording purportedly between two rebels discussing the fact that they had shot down the plane:

the contents of those calls were released on the day of the crash. if that timing sounds convenient, it is. the authenticity of the video itself, or at least of its timing and geolocation have been questioned, as well as the fact that security council spokesman andrij lysenko was talking about the rebels having a buk system at a press conference just forty minutes after the crash [and before he had been officially briefed about it].

one of the rebel leaders, igor bezler, has said that the conversations did happen, but that the flight referred to was not mh17. another audio expert said that the recordings were doctored and edited [beyond, one assumes, the editing that the security service admits to]. even america's radio free europe admits that they can't independently verify the authenticity of a lot of the material provided by the ukrainian authorities.

going back to the daily beast piece again, if you look through it and follow its myriad links, you'll see that almost all of them go to one site: this site. the interpreter has clearly made coverage of events in the eastern ukraine a priority and, if you read through their stories, it's impossible not to see a pronounced anti-russia bias. that's not surprising, since the magazine is part of this group. the institute for modern russia is a registered charity in the united states run by pavel khodorkovsky. pavel is the son of mikhail khodorkovsky, the oil billionaire and putin political rival who was imprisoned on what many believed were politically motivated charges [and that he was convicted by a politically corrupt judiciary]. none of this constitutes any sort of proof that information published in the interpreter is false. what it does do is reveal that the "airtight case" the daily beast is outlining is drawn almost entirely from reports written and researched by people who have an axe to grind with both russia and vladimir putin. more importantly, it draws from that source without mentioning the possible bias. [and let me be clear: bias doesn't guarantee inaccuracy, but if you view events through a certain filter, that filter has a way of contaminating your objectivity even when you don't mean it to.]

although there are many, many theories as to what happened to flight mh17 [see the main ones snidely assessed here by the washington post], the prevailing theory outside russia is still that the plane was taken down by a buk anti-aircraft missile. [russia has offered the counter-theory that mh17 was shot down by a ukrainian plane, although the extensive damage to the front of the downed aircraft makes it unlikely that the crash was caused by anything other than a front strike from a something much larger than bullets. see more on this here.] and russia has not helped herself by seeming to waffle on alternate theories, even backing some pretty outrageous sounding ones.

in fact, biased reporting aside, there is tremendous evidence that a buk anti-aircraft missile was responsible for the crash [i'll send you again to the dutch blog investigation, which has links all over the place]. but that doesn't mean that russia was responsible. after all, even if you accept that the separatists had a buk, they weren't the only ones who did. despite near-miraculous technology, it's proven singularly difficult to identify the point of origin of the missile, which is a pretty important piece of the puzzle.

the "information dump" by the ukraine security service may be 100% accurate, but it's also a political maneuver, aimed at drumming up anti-russian sentiment in the west and support for the ukrainian government in their fight against them. with the battle for eastern ukraine still raging, there's no doubt that the poroshenko government would welcome some nato support.

as for the russians, there is a precedent for previous administrations being less than forthcoming about accidents. thirty years on, we're clearly dealing with a different group of people, but russia's situation in the world is not entirely changed: she still sits as the counterbalance to the united states; she continues to view the west with suspicion and continues to be viewed by the west as suspicious and threatening. it's not unreasonable to assume that russia would be hesitant to reveal everything she knows, even if it would establish that taking down mh17 was a horrific accident.

the likelihood :: 7/10
based on what's been revealed thus far, it does look highly likely that flight mh17 was shot down anti-aircraft missile and that the most likely source of that missile was the rebel side of the ukrainian battlefield. while it's far from clear what happened, the facts do seem to fit this explanation. the problem is, we're not really hearing the entire story and a lot of what we are hearing comes from biased sources.

in court, a lawyer's case would be ripped apart if they couldn't find corroborating evidence to back up a biased witness's statement and that's what's lacking at the moment. verifiable proof has to come from sources outside the ukrainian security forces or the story will always be suspect.

what's truly sad, however, is that the inability to establish the bare facts of the crash stops other important questions from being addressed: was the ukrainian government aware that rebels had a buk system [kinda seems like they were]? if they knew this, did they tell anyone? assuming that someone, somewhere knew that there were warring factions in possession of anti-aircraft missiles capable of taking down a plane at thirty thousand feet, why were passenger flights still being allowed to cross such dangerous air space? the actual shooting down of mh17 may have been an accident, but that isn't a sufficient explanation. in order to really solve the mystery and give grieving families some semblance of peace, what needs to be addressed is how that accident came to happen.

17 July 2015

making faces :: summertime goth or golden?

pops of colour. ur doin it rong.
this is sort of an update on a post that i did a few years back, a contrast of a sunnier, warmer look with a paler, more dramatic and typically "gothic" look [also known as "what i'm more comfortable wearing"]. although i like the post itself, i've always felt like it was sort of imbalanced, because the photos of the summery, "tanned" look are much worse photos which tends to sort of bias the preference to one side. also, the bronzed look was paired with blue eye shadow, which is often pretty unfortunate on me.

since this summer has seen the introduction of a couple of products from guerlain and yves st. laurent that are more flattering at giving a sunlit glow to pale faces, i thought it might be time to revisit the theme. also, the original pale/ gothic look, while i like it very much, is something that i'd be inclined to wear more in the winter. i don't necessarily follow rules about what one can or can't wear at a particular time of year, but there's no denying that heavier, darker makeup quickly starts to look heavy and often "melty" in the heat of summer. so keeping those two things in mind, i thought i'd give this another try. [i'd like to think that i'm not doing this because i've run out of ideas. i don't think i have...]

in the time that i've been playing around in my amateur, random way with seasonal colour analysis and trying to figure out where i might fit in the spectrum, i have discovered that while i am fair, i'm not as cool-toned as i might have thought. [and not just me. because of my colouring, everyone seems to assume at a glance that my skin tone runs decidedly cool. in truth, it's much closer to neutral, even at the height of winter when my skin is at its whitest. and therein lies the really interesting part of colour analysis: until you see a range of colours against your skin, it can be difficult to predict what's going to work on you.]

so first up, here's a look at me embracing the warmth in 2015, courtesy of some new advances in products and colour:

products used

the base ::
nars all day luminous weightless foundation "mont blanc"
nars radiant creamy concealer "vanilla"
mac paint pot "painterly"

the eyes ::
inglot matte e/s "351" [yellow ivory highlight]
chanel e/s "tiger lily" [tangerine with white sparkle]
rbr e/s "golden rhea" [light gold]
mac prolongwear e/s "one to watch" [soft brown-orange]
stila stay all day pen e/l "lionfish" [shimmery golden brown]
dior new look mascara

the cheeks ::
ysl les sahariennes powder blur skin perfector "abricot" [light apricot]
guerlain terra inca sublime radiant powder [soft, shimmery rose gold]*

the lips ::
ysl gloss volupté l/g "bordeaux sarouel" [deep brick red]

rather than risk a repeat of the 70s porn blue shadow + bronzer look i did last time, i went with much mellower shades around the eyes [and warmer ones, in fact]. to get that sunlit look on my face, i dabbed the ysl blur powder [by the way, how long is it going to be before cosmetic product names exceed the character limit on twitter?] on the apples of my cheeks. i didn't really blend it out, just smoothed it a little with my fingers and my trusty mac 188. then i used a larger brush, my mac 150, to brush the terra inca powder on the outside of my cheeks. i didn't contour with it, but just used it to warm the outer part of my cheekbones. i did diffuse it a little further up and down at the edges, but it's something that's too shimmery to ever be credible as a contour. i haven't ever found a good replacement for "terra inca" [which is of concern to me, since i can see a sliver of the pan peeking through the powder], but based on photos, i think that becca shimmering skin perfector in "rose gold" looks reasonably close. ["blushed copper" looks a bit similar as well, but deeper.]

and now, here's me taking a stab at a more hot weather-friendly version of my usual kind of look.

products used

the base ::
givenchy teint couture foundation "elegant porcealain"
nars radiant creamy concealer "vanilla"
mac paint pot "painterly"

the eyes ::
dior fusion mono cream shadow "celeste" [icy matte lilac]*
mac e/s "nocturnelle" [deep red-purple]
mac e/s "carbon" [soft matte black]
mac e/s "memorabilia" [dusty cool purple]*
rbr e/s "alabaster starling" [shimmery eggshell]
urban decay 24/7 e/l "zero" [black]
dior new look mascara

the cheeks ::
chanel joues contraste blush "rose écrin" [beige pink]
mac blush "next to skin" [medium neutral beige]*

the lips ::
mac l/l "nightmoth" [blackened plum]
mac dazzleglass l/g "boys go crazy" [deep cool purple with blue/ silver shimmer]*

the lip for this was inspired by this "sumertime goth" look from auxiliary beauty. i love the look on her and i've seen the effect of a deeper, stained centre of the lip done very well on other people. on me, however, it just never seems to work. i think it's to do with the fact that i already have "bee stung" lips- meaning that they're already plumper in the centre and narrower and less pigmented at the sides. so adding heavier colour to the centre of the lips exaggerates this and makes it look like i'm pursing my lips in an unattractively uptight way all the time.

the lip gloss i used was originally released by mac years ago and has been brought back as part of their summer "le disko" collection. it's not a collection that called to me, largely since a lot of glittery products on my face looks less retro-disco-diva-fierce and more never-got-over-coke-and-the-seventies-sad. i like that "boys go crazy" is a colour that you don't see too often [purples, especially dark ones, are redder most of the time, although that's starting to change] and the sparkle isn't too over-the-top. i like the mac dazzleglass formula well enough, although it's not my favourite and doesn't wear terribly well. a dark colour like this is tricky both because it doesn't want to apply as evenly as i'd like and because it looks patchy as it wears. that said, it's not that easy to find a colour like this... [i have a swatch of it way back here.]

clearly, though, this look is focused more on the eyes and i'm pretty happy with the way those turned out. i figured i'd used a combination of a matte cream shadow that i knew could stand the heat and a smudgy look for underneath the eyes, since i don't get sweaty there. i wanted the look to be almost colour-blocked, with a contrast between the very cool, icy shade on the lid and the "classic" goth black + plum combo underneath. calling attention to the under-eye area on a woman of my, ahem, vintage is risky, but i think i'm helped by the fact that the dark colours sort of curve upwards at the sides.

as far as the limited products i've used, i have some bad news... i have never found a good match for either "celeste" or "memorabilia". for the latter you could try rouge bunny rouge "trumpeter koel", but it's bluer, greyer, darker... different. "next to skin" is lighter and pinker than mac "strada", although they're in the same family. that said, looking at the hideous new mac web site [i feel like i should get products for free just for being able to navigate that thing], "strada" doesn't seem to be available any longer. my advice would just be to use a standard contouring powder.

so there it is: old post revisited and revamped for 2015. i think that this round is a little more even, but largely because i feel like companies have finally started creating "bronzing" products for fair ladies who like their skin colour, ones that add glow without turning you brown or burnt orange. thanks for coming around to my side, guys.

p.s. :: wear sun block. if you look good tanned, good for you. there are about a million products out there that emulate tanning and most of them won't give you cancer. practice safe sun.

16 July 2015

world wide wednesdays :: iran so far away

if i ever meet president barack obama, i'm going to have to thank him for twice timing important foreign policy announcements just in time for me to capitalize with a world wide wednesdays post. first it was cuba. now it's iran. i haven't read through the details of the new agreement on nuclear development [although unlike a lot of american politicians and israeli prime minister benjamin netanyahu, i admit that i haven't read it], but i'm already prepared to make one statement: it is the first meaningful step forward in american-iranian relations since the revolution of 1979. for more than thirty-five years, iran has been a pariah in the west, although it's unlikely that many would be able to tell you why that's the case. but chances are that iran, characterised not so long ago by president george w. bush [really by his speechwriter david frum] as part of the "axis of evil" alongside iraq and north korea, is going to play an increasingly important role in both american and world affairs. so today, it's time to play the "getting to know you" game with our new friends iran.

first of all, persia is iran

a lot of people are aware of this one, but they don't necessarily think about the implications. the persians of ancient history who fought with the greeks? iranian. the people who came up with a lot of the mathematics that haunted your high school nightmares? iranian. [i'm betting there are a lot of iranian teenagers who are just as pissed off at those guys as you were, which just goes to show that we have more in common than we might imagine.] persian rugs? iranian. persian coffee? iranian. persian cats? iranian.

classical persian art
persia is the greek name for iran, which got adopted in europe and then in european colonies. the name was officially changed in 1935, when the shah pointed out that he didn't go insisting england be called by its farsi name and so maybe the rest of the world could call iran "iran", which was the name they called themselves. the name "iran", by the way, is derived from the old persian word aryānā which means "home of the aryans".

while the rest of the world acknowledged that it was kind of douche-y to call iran persia when it wasn't their "real" name and agreed to make the change going forward, a lot of people persisted with calling them persia when their backs were turned and everything that they'd done up to that point in history was still referred to as "persian". so when you hear people referring to things as "persian", you realise that they really mean iranian. [side note :: just to confuse you, the language that iranians speak is persian, or rather it's a dialect of persian called farsi. the language is never called "iranian", although persian is part of the indo-iranian language group. got that?]

of course, a lot of you knew that already...

it's kind of hard to underestimate the iran's influence on the world

ancient persia gave us things like algebra, astronomy, and anesthesia, which are still pretty practical to this day. they also have one of the oldest examples of monotheism in the world, although their specific type of monotheism [zoroastrianism] is no longer very influnential. but iran's importance in the world isn't just an artifact of ancient times.

during what europeans termed the "dark ages"- as compared to the glorious times of the roman empire- iran was a crucial part of the "islamic golden age". as arab muslims conquered great swathes of the world, rather than destroying what they found, they made a point of collecting and consolidating the reserves of knowledge they encountered. so in addition to seeing their own culture revived, the persians gained access to the philosophy, literature, science, mathematics and more of the ancient greeks, phoenecians, romans and more. in fact, if it were up to europeans, a lot of that knowledge would have been lost, had it not been transcribed into persian and arabic.

in the 17th and 18th centuries, iran's empire was on par with that of england, france and spain. indeed, it may have been more powerful and certainly no country in the region could come close to competing with it. the iranian shahs conquered much of the near and middle east, including states like azerbaijan, which are now considered parts of europe. in 1738, the shah of persia even sacked the indian capital of delhi and brought back so much booty that he suspended taxation in the empire. that's right. possibly for the only time in history, a world leader looked at his accumulated [and stolen] wealth and said "i really don't need any more".

poor leadership, a couple of wars with russia, a famine and a civil war eroded iran's status by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but if you're looking for a point of comparison, iran is closer to spain or france than it is to the third world.

this is a country of survivors

starting in 1219, iran was invaded by the armies of genghis khan. it was a disaster and the country lost between ten and fifteen million people- possibly three-quarters of its population. fast-forward six hundred and fifty years and in 1870-1, 1.5 million people died as a result of the great persian famine [almost 25% of the population at the time]. and between 1917 and 1919, another famine killed between millions more.

that last famine is important for understanding the modern history of iran and its relations with the west. while the 1870 famine was the result of a drought, the 1917 one need never have reached the proportions it did, except for the actions of the armies who were fighting over iran's petroleum resources and access to both the caspian sea and the persian gulf. iran was formally neutral during the first world war, but many did take sides, either with the british and russian forces who controlled different regions of the country or with the ottoman/ german axis who encouraged them to rise up against their colonialist overlords. [side note :: although britain and russia had partitioned the country between them and administered it as a protectorate, iran was never properly colonised, one of the few areas of the world that's able to say that.]

during the war, the armies of britain, russia [until they left in 1917] and the ottoman empire were concerned chiefly with making sure their soldiers had enough to eat and therefore hoarded the food that was available. in addition, they were concerned that those resources should not fall into the hands of their enemies, which meant that when the armies moved, they often destroyed what they couldn't carry. it's also been alleged that the british wanted to crush iranian support for the ottomans and for full independence by restricting trade. the lack of imports during the time deprived the iranian government of tax money it needed in order to purchase goods from india and the united states- goods that could have mitigated the effect of the famine. at least one author has alleged that this amounts to a genocide on the part of the british, however the famine is rarely mentioned outside of iran.

interior of an iranian mosque
the great satan? not so much

although ayatollah ruhollah khomeini may have applied that epithet to the united states in 1979, the current view of americans is nowhere near as harsh. a 2009 poll showed that a significant majority of iranians favoured restoring diplomatic ties and conducting open negotiations with the united states. moreover, 51% of iranians had a positive view of the united states [although not of its politicians, a distinction that iranians seem to find easy to make]. that's a higher approval rating than anywhere else in the middle east except israel. even the united states' longtime ally in the region, turkey, has a less favourable opinion of americans.

consider that america was deeply implicated in the coup that brought down iran's first democratically elected leader and replaced him with the autocratic shah. iranians are well aware of this and like the united states in spite of it, not because they are ignorant of it. [side note :: although a lot of americans are unaware of their involvement in removing democracy from iran and backing another brutal dictator, most american politicians on a national scale are quite conscious of it, even if they don't bother to talk about it. one politician who has spoken about it is presidential candidate hillary clinton. in a 2011 interview done for bbc persia, she said that she believed the deposing of mohammed mossadegh was a mistake. normally, that sort of thing would be derided by clinton's staunch detractors as weak and unpatriotic, but it's possible that, even if they saw the segment, they didn't know what the hell she was referring to.]

women and theocracy

in a theocracy based on a religion that's associated with horrific trespasses on women's rights, you'd assume that women have it pretty bad in iran. indeed, women are obliged to wear the hijab from the age of nine. they need their husband's permission to have a job. certain professions are off-limits to them and unemployment among women is significantly higher than among men.  they lag far behind in terms of participation in all areas of employment, including government, where there are only nine female members [out of 290].


women have had the vote in iran since 1963. female literacy has skyrocketed since the 1979 revolution and rates among women by the age of 24 are near first-world levels. women represent over 50% of university students [keeping in mind that there are certain subjects that are forbidden to them]. interestingly, women form a considerable majority of science students at iranian universities. although it's not common for women to serve as police officers, there are women on the force who deal specifically with crimes against women and children. oral contraception [the pill!] is fully subsidized by the public health care program. women can drive, unlike in saudi arabia, and can socialise with male friends. controversial president mahmoud ahmedinejad was known for his conservative stance on many issues, however he appointed iran's first female cabinet ministers.

there have been stories that recent years have seen steps backwards for women, however, with the numbers in education being what they are, it seems inevitable that women will play a larger and larger role in iranian public life.

[side note :: women's rights isn't the only area where iran is more progressive than one might think. while homosexuality is illegal and severely repressed, iran recognises transgendered persons and sexual reassignment surgery is at least partially covered by public health care.]

anti-semitism is really not a thing there

in fact, iran has a pretty long-standing jewish community. the persian king cyrus the great liberated the jews from babylonian captivity and the links between the two have persisted ever since. although the population dropped after the islamic revolution, there are still about 25,000 jews in iran. they are recognised as an important religious minority in iran- along with christians and zoroastrians- and are thus guaranteed a seat in the national parliament. iranian jews serve in the army and have died for their country- over a hundred of them during the eight year war with iraq [when saddam hussein was a good guy in western eyes].
iranian negotiating team

in the build-up to world war ii, adolf hitler tried to court the iranians, hoping to capitalize on their abiding anger with the british. he made some progress, as well, attempting to sell the idea of the underlying interests of aryan peoples. however his anti-semitic policies proved repulsive to iran's muslim leadership and no entente ever resulted. the british and russians thanked the shah for rebuffing their enemy by invading his country and deposing him in favour of his son in 1941.

the iranian government has been tied to anti-israeli groups hamas and hezbollah [a group they founded and funded in response to the israeli invasion of lebanon], as well as to the assad government in syria. they are strong supporters of the palestinian cause and this is where confusion seems to abound as to their views on jewish people. president mahmoud ahmedinejad made that confusion worse by targeting israel and making outrageous comments denying the holocaust [something done largely to distract from the fact that he had proved to be a poor economic manager and had made the plight of many iranians worse during his tenure]. however, ayatollah khomeni was clear that there was a distinction between the jews of iran and the nation of israel.

"We recognize our Jews as separate from those godless, bloodsucking Zionists."

ok, that really doesn't work for making us all feel warm and fuzzy, but i guess it counts for something...

[side note :: iran has executed 13 jews since 1979, mostly on charges of colluding with israel, so it's not exactly all sunshine and roses for the persian jewish community. on the flip side of that, ahmedinejad's comments about the holocaust earned him a public dressing-down from the leader of the iranian jewish community and there were no repercussions.]

with the denunciations of the as-yet-unread agreement already starting, chances are we are going to be hearing a lot more about iran in the near future. presidential candidate lindsey graham has already characterised iranians as "liars", to give you an idea of the level of debate we can expect. but we can do better. iran is a fascinating and exciting place, a mix of ancient and modern the likes of which you can find in only a few places on earth. let's adopt the approach of the iranians who view the former "great satan" so positively: extreme skepticism of politicians coupled with optimism and curiosity about the people and the country. 

p.s. :: don't forget that other sort of iranian beauty...

i poached that from alireza's instagram. there's pictures of him in a bathing suit on there, by the way.
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