31 August 2015

paranoid theory of the week :: were the new orleans levees bombed during hurricane katrina?

2005
there's been a great deal of coverage on the tenth anniversary of hurricane katrina this week, about what happened, the various administrative and governmental failings, what has been rebuilt, what damage remains and what has been done to keep such a thing from ever happening again. as fierce as the storm was, the greater problem was arguably the ineptness that preceded and followed it. a chronic lack of funding for upgrades to the city's protection system and a response protocol that was completely unprepared for a catastrophic failure in that system, saw thousands of people stranded in horrifying circumstances for weeks as the rest of the world stared in disbelief.

but as if that wasn't bad enough, rumours surfaced at the time that the disaster was not merely the result of administrative incompetence, but was exacerbated by a very deliberate plan to sacrifice the city's poorest and most vulnerable in order to save the wealthy and profitable areas. so ten years on, we're taking a look at whether or not the disaster of katrina's aftermath was more sinister than is believed.

the theory ::
the levees in new orleans were not breached, but were blown up in order to divert floodwaters into the poor, largely black areas of the city, away from wealthy neighbourhoods, popular tourist areas, and business districts and to force residents out of the flooded areas so that the valuable land could be seized by developers.

1927
the origins ::
eye witnesses at the time claimed they saw or heard the explosions, particularly around the 17th street levee.

the believers ::
it's unclear how many reports from eye and ear witnesses there were claiming to have heard an explosion at the time of the crucial breach, but suffice it to say, it appears to have been more than a handful. louis farrakhan, head of the nation of islam, was the earliest high profile supporter of the theory, claiming in 2005 that then new orleans mayor ray nagin told him that the levees had been deliberately blown up. [nagin denies this.] filmmaker spike lee, whose documentary when the levees broke chronicles the story of the storm, said in 2005 that the idea that there had been a deliberate effort to displace blacks from the city to be less far-fetched than people made it seem.

the bad guys ::
the american government and military, possibly haliburton, a frequent government subcontractor inextricably linked with then vice president dick cheney.

the evidence ::
well, let's start with the fact that the government had done it before. in 1927, much of mississippi, arkansas and louisiana was inundated with floodwaters after six months of inordinately heavy rain. hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, and it was a key factor in the decision of many to abandon the south for the more prosperous and meteorologic-ally safer north. this flood was worse than katrina in almost every measure: when adjusted for inflation and as a proportion of budget, the financial damage was much greater; the area affected was larger; the number of dead and displaced, proportional to population, were greater and the government response to the aftermath was worse.

the first levee breaches had occurred around christmas 1926 and continued. fed by spring floods charging from the north, the waters continued to rise and by april of 1927, it's safe to say that the powerful of the south were in full on panic mode. they had, for months, operated under the assumption [hope] that the floods could never reach the business capital of new orleans, but as the record rainfalls persisted and the gulf of mexico reached the point of capacity and blocked the progress of the water, it became obvious that they had been wrong. so on april 15, in order to save the city, the federal government blew up the levee at caernarvon, 13 miles south of new orleans, in order to relieve the pressure and stop the water from backing up right into the city.

2005
the area that was sacrificed was poor and rural. the vast majority, 75% of the population was black and while they were promised restitution for their losses, very little was actually done. temporary relief camps were as nightmarish as those constructed for katrina. in some cases, evacuees were moved to drier ground, but then left without food or water. some were unwilling to rescue black workers out of fear that they wouldn't return to their jobs. [blacks represented 95% of the crucial agricultural workforce.] and in a move of flagitious insensitivity, black men living in the camps were forced to earn their place by doing hard physical labour as part of the relief effort.

so when spike lee said that the idea that the government would sacrifice black people's property and lives in order to save white businesses wasn't far-fetched, he was being uncharacteristically understated. it is a historical fact that less than a century before katrina, the federal government had done exactly that.

of course, the actions of the great mississippi flood don't prove anything about katrina, but they do provide pretty compelling circumstantial evidence, just as prior crimes can be used in a court case to show character, but not to determine guilt or innocence.

the other evidence at our disposal is that of witnesses, who say that what they heard when the levees breaking, the sound was percussive, like a series of explosions, rather than the roar of a steady flow of water. and despite the position of the media that these were just rumours, witnesses went as far as to testify before congress to what they had heard. knowing that there was little chance that they would even be believed, it's difficult to imagine that there was an incentive for these people to lie, so it's a safe assumption that they spoke truthfully about their experiences.

you've undoubtedly noticed the tricky wording i used in that last sentence. and i used it because even the most honest and well-intentioned witnesses are notoriously problematic. our minds play tricks on us when we're under stress, when something happens quickly, when something happens while we're distracted and even when the conditions are right for us to process going on, reflecting on it too much can cause our memory to play tricks on us. mistakes are possible, which is why criminal trials rely more and more on forensic evidence [even if we're not quite at csi-level certainty yet].

1927
furthermore, there is the question of how confident witnesses could be about what they heard. very few of us know what an explosion or a bursting dam sounds like [which is a good thing]. it's possible that some of the witnesses who claimed to hear an explosion had some experience of the former, less likely the latter. we live in a world where we see catastrophes all the time in movies and on television, but they're nothing more than trickery, often quite different than the real thing. a car backfiring sounds considerably more like a gunshot in the movies than an actual gunshot, but unless you've heard both [possibly a few times], you're unlikely to be able to make the distinction.

when people say that what they heard was more like an explosion than a levee breaking, they're relying on their experience to tell them what those things should sound like. which raises the question: what does the rupture of a protective wall sound like? this wasn't a case where the waters simply spilled over the top of the wall. the wall burst from the force of the water behind it. the pressure built up until the structure was so taxed that it started to give and, unable to hold together any longer, it came crashing down, allowing the water to roar in after it. again, you're probably noticing my choice of words there: "crash" and "roar" and "burst". nature is in possession of awesome powers, but we're rarely given the opportunity to witness their full force, even as a simulation. we might think that the breach of a levee would sound like a great wave crashing on land, but when you consider the physics at work, it's not crazy to think that it could sound a lot like an explosion.

there is one important difference between the 1927 flood and the 2005 katrina flooding: in 1927, a predominantly poor, black area was sacrificed to protect the wealthy whites. in 2005, some wealthy white neighbourhoods sustained some of the heaviest damage. nor was the core of the city protected. if this was a planned operation, it was a near-complete failure. i know that might not seem like a stretch in light of what happened, but consider that this was something that had been successfully done before. it's hard to argue that the government in 2005 wouldn't have known how to accomplish their aims when the government of 1927 did.  

2005
investigations into the site of the breach revealed no evidence of explosions [which leave pretty significant evidence]. believers will argue that the investigations are merely the power structure acquitting itself of any wrongdoing and i'm not trying to discount that as a possibility. but consider that barely a year after katrina, the democrats won control of both houses of congress and had every reason to want to discredit george w. bush and his administration. revealing a secret operation, so awful in concept and so inept in execution would not merely have made him unpopular: it could have dealt a crushing blow to his entire party, galvanized the african american vote and effectively guaranteed that the democrats held on to power for decades. don't think of whether or not the democrats were more interested in the welfare of poor blacks than the republicans were: think in terms of what they had to gain for themselves.

the likelihood :: 1/10
i'm not willing to completely discount this one on the basis of historical precedent, but it's extremely unlikely. with no physical evidence and well-meaning but unreliable eye witness evidence, we have to determine that the breach of the levees in 2005 was exactly that: a breach and not a bombing.

but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be outraged and it doesn't mean that what happened wasn't criminal, or that it wasn't an example of racism and class-ism at its worst.

the failings of the federal response beggar belief and amidst the stream of remembrance happening, we should be asking hard questions about what has been done [the system built as a response to the 1927 flooding actually affected the flow of the mississippi in such a way that it's made flooding worse], how it has been maintained and how the rescue system has been improved to deal with a future failure in the levees. what happened in the wake of katrina wasn't the result of a sudden panic over a situation more serious than expected. it was the exposure of a deeply flawed system and the response- typified nowhere so much as in the case of patients at charity hospital watching as patients of a nearby private hospital were flown to safety via helicopter- revealed a mindset that some lives- white lives, wealthy lives- mattered more than others.

before i leave you, i want to go back to the idea that we should be asking serious questions about the current state of preparedness. the response i've heard from officials is that, yes, the revitalized levee system could withstand a storm the size of katrina without breaking down. that should not be comforting. hurricane katrina was a category three hurricane by the time it made landfall and most of us know that storms can go up to category five. even more disconcerting: katrina didn't directly hit new orleans, it only sideswiped it. so if katrina is the measuring stick for preparedness in the city, it's inadequate in two ways. this doesn't bode well.

28 August 2015

making faces :: inspired by summer meadows

the last few days, we've had a bit of a reprieve from the overwhelming heat of summer, and although it's scheduled to get toasty again, i'm currently experiencing that swell of excitement that comes with late summer: the refreshing breezes, the sweet scents of ferns and late summer flowers, mixed with dried grasses and those slightly past their prime trees, just about to start turning to the spectacular display of colour we'll experience in october.

before summer truly fades, there's that wonderful period where everything is alive and bursting with colour, which is how i usually think of august. let me offer you some examples:






 and in homage to those beautiful images of summer meadows, i thought i'd share with you a look that i did that was inspired by them. clearly, i needed some soft greens as a base and a warm, sunny, but somewhat hazy light to the skin. the lips, of course, were meant to mimic the pop of colour from the flowers in our imaginary face-meadow and come courtesy of rouge bunny rouge's new lipstick lineup.

rbr revamped all of their lipsticks earlier this year, with many of the shades moseying off into the sunset and fresh recruits joining the team. most noticeably, the "succulence of dew" semi-sheer line now has two bold, juicy new additions. in this look, you're seeing the juicy red "relish of heaven", a great neutral red [i think it will lean a little warmer or cooler depending on your undertone] with excellent colour payoff, but just a little translucency to it. the formula is indeed improved, with substantially more staying power. the colour fades to a lovely stain and while it won't survive a hearty meal, you'll have a decent dose of colour left behind after a couple of cocktails or a bowl of soup. if you want to reapply, i suggest removing any remaining colour and doing an entirely fresh coat, since there can be some minor feathering. it's not unexpected for such an emollient formula, nor is it the worst i've seen by a long stretch. for something with so much slip, it applies very evenly, which is a relief.

a little peek at my new bunnies

i'll be posting a review of the other shade that i picked up from the new line, the sweet fuchsia "jasmine-weighted air", in the near future and will include comparisons for both shades. for the moment, i'll just mention that semi-opaque reds aren't particularly common, so that alone gives this an edge in the uniqueness stakes against a massive poppy field.




here's what comprised the entire look

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

the eyes ::
mac e/s "bright sunshine" [shimmery golden yellow]
rbr e/s "whispering ibis" [soft basil green]
armani eyes to kill e/s "gold hercule" [dirty grey-gold]*
rbr e/s "papyrus canary" [matte ecru]
urban decay 24/7 e/l "invasion" [dark green-teal]
dior new look mascara

the cheeks ::
rbr liquid bronzer "as if it were summer still" [shimmery golden brown]
nars blush "torrid" [warm light apricot]
hourglass ambient lighting powder "luminous light" [candlelit glow]

the lips ::
rbr succulence of dew l/s "relish of heaven" [juicy sour cherry red]


the nails [for once neat enough to post! and on theme!] :: 
essie "sew psyched" [deep sage green]
opi "my gecko does tricks" [translucent shimmery lime green]

*suggested alternate :: gold hercule = nars paramaribo [lighter shade] + nars vent glacé [darker shade] might get you close, but this is almost impossible to replicate.

anything in nature inspire you? after all, capturing the colours of nature and adorning ourselves with them is the very essence of cosmetics.

27 August 2015

world wide wednesdays :: the old trash and the sea

is there life after death? there is for your garbage. in fact, there's even kind of a garbage heaven, or haven, in our oceans oceans. the pacific is best known, but the atlantic and indian oceans have also staked their claim and despite the fact that we've known about them for years, there hasn't been much of anything done to address the problem. as a result, they're now taking on an eerie permanence and although we haven't yet colonised them for human settlement, it might not be that far behind. so today, here are some fun facts about the awesome islands of garbage that are sailing the open seas like pirates, picking up our discarded booty.

the first thing that warrants clarification is that these garbage islands aren't islands. and no, i don't mean they're actually peninsulas. but they're generally more like swamps, with an incredible concentration of plastic, much of it in pieces so small as to be invisible to the human eye. you could probably swim through sections of it and, assuming you didn't freeze to death, get swept away and drown in the rough seas, or get eaten by something large and scary, you might not even realise that you were in the midst of a huge dump. of course, you'd probably feel pretty sick afterward, because you'd doubtless swallow lots of plastic shrapnel. whether that would cause you any long term damage is unclear, but assume that it wouldn't be good for you. i have a feeling you're not going to be doing it anyway.

but in case you're feeling disappointed that there aren't massive islands of old diapers spinning around in the oceans, perhaps this will cheer you: there are islands within the garbage patches. the "great pacific garbage patch" now has a spiffy fifteen metre [fifty foot] island that boasts its own reefs, coastlines and marine life [largely mollusks and seaweed]. this was likely caused by the 2011 tsunami that hit japan and dragged much larger pieces of trash into the ocean. although it's taken time, eventually it all ends up in the garbage patch.

so how does the garbage know to find its way to the nearest hangout? well, it doesn't. we're not creating sentient garbage [yet]. the movement of currents in the world's oceans creates five major gyres, areas where the all converge and kind of spin around together, and when garbage ends up in the ocean [either because people put it there, or because it blows there from landfills or places where it's simply been dropped], the currents naturally spin it towards the gyres and leave it there. the oceans are much better at making sure all the trash ends up in the same place than we are, as it turns out.

one of the biggest problems cited by garbage patch scientists [they exist] is the effect of all this garbage on marine wildlife. bird carcasses are often found packed with the stuff, which they seem to eat and which fills them up, thus disguising the fact that they're starving to death from lack of nutrients. however, there may be a little more to it than that. because the animals that are examined are the dead ones, we don't know if it's possible that some animals eat the plastic and live [we know fish can, but it's not clear if they can in a trash-packed environment like the garbage patches]. while it's nice to think that our garbage isn't killing entire species, there's nothing reassuring about this idea, because it means either the animals don't absorb the plastics, which means they go straight out the back door and back into the ocean, or they do absorb them and all their chemicals, which means that those chemicals get spread through the entire food chain, where they could possibly case genetic mutations that could last forever. [side note :: the garbage also provides an easier method for some species, particularly insects, to move around, allowing them to travel long distances and see parts of the world where they've never been. and conquer them. invasive species have a way of upsetting ecosystems that are not used to dealing with them.]

a few years ago, scientists were somewhat relieved to find that the garbage patches seemed to be shrinking as the sun finally succeeded in breaking down the plastic bits through photo-degradation. [a term that sounds kind of naughty, but just means the changing of things through exposure to light.] i'm not exactly sure why they were so jazzed that the plastics were disappearing, since their chemical components would still be floating around, but any shrinkage has to be a good sign, right? [stop giggling, this is serious.]

well, it turns out that we don't have to debate how good or bad it is, because they were wrong. their results were based on trawling the oceans and seeing what turned up and, lo and behold, there were fewer pieces. and now i'd like to remind you of my earlier comment about many of the pieces being too small for the human eye to register. when subject to more accurate methods of testing, like analysing the density of the water from the air and testing its composition, it turns out there's way more garbage than was previously thought. although the tests were conducted on the "big boy patch" in the pacific, it's not unreasonable to assume that the same doesn't apply to its little brothers.

there's also the issue that the garbage goes much deeper than we originally thought: the relative strength of the currents in the gyre, as well as their density and temperature, means that some are forced beneath others and they seem to take their garbage right along with them. so the garbage builds up well beneath the surface as well as floating on top of it and it collects to form sold or semi-solid structures there as well.

the great gondwanalands of garbage will likely never wash up upon our shores, although they may send emissaries that break away from their orbit. in a way, that makes the problem worse, because most of us are never going to see the oceanic gyres [and we wouldn't be able to see the extent of the trashery even if we did] and this keeps us from thinking of what we should be doing to contain and control these mutants of our modern world. these aren't just things we can rush in and clean up with the world's toughest shop vac. but we need to find a way of removing them that's a lot less harmful than it was putting them there in the first place.

p.s. :: all of the images used are from the unesco-backed art project the garbage patch state, which was started to call attention to the problem of the patches. you can find out more about it here.

23 August 2015

paranoid theory of the week :: did the soviet army accidentally kill nine hikers in 1959?

stretching from the arctic islands of vaygach and novaya zembla down to the edge of kazakhstan, the ural mountains are the dividing line between europe and asia. it is one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world, although its craggy peaks rise unexpectedly high above sea level for their age. despite the remoteness of the region, its wealth of mining resources gave rise to the industrial centre of yekaterineburg. in 1979, a military accident resulted in the release of anthrax spores that killed at least one hundred people, but many believe that this was the second accident in the region. the rumour was that twenty years earlier, nine people died during a secret weapons test that remains a protected secret to this day.

in late january 1959, a group of ten mountain climbers and skiers, most of them students in their early twenties, planned to make the ten kilometre trek from vizhai to otorten mountain. at the time, it was considered to be a hiking challenge of the highest level of difficulty, but even by those standards, the date of the team was shocking. a single lucky member became ill and had to abandon the expedition, while nine others died in the snows of kholat syakhl, known locally as "the mountain of the dead". [this is a misinterpretation of the mansi name, however, since the word for "dead" can also mean "barren" and refers in this case to the mountain being devoid of game and wildlife. so that's one myth of the story cut down already.]

the mystery of what happened to the nine victims remains unsolved, but one theory is that they died as a result of injuries sustained from a new form of weapon being tested by the soviet army. [other theories include that they were attacked by a yeti, or even by hostile extra-terrestrials.] it is the most compelling type of mystery: the vast majority of the facts are well-established and undisputed; the movements of the group are meticulously documented, save for the crucial period just before they died; there are elements of the case that are difficult to explain given what is known; and finally, there is no official explanation, even after more than fifty years.

so this week, we take a look at a possible reason for the deaths of nine people in an area now named after the leader of that expedition: the dyatlov pass.

happier times
the theory ::
the members of the dyatlov exhibition died as a result of exposure to weapons being tested in the vicinity.

the origin ::
it's not entirely clear who first voiced the theory, but because of the way in which the inquest into the deaths was conducted and the inability of any of the officials to explain certain evidence found on the scene, many people suspected a government cover-up almost immediately.

the believers ::
lots of people believe lots of different things about what happened at dyatlov pass. film director renny harlin, whose film devil's pass deals with the incident and its legacy, is one high profile believer that the government was at least connected to the deaths. yuri kuntsevich, whose fascination with the case dates from seeing the bodies at their funerals, started a foundation to lobby the government to reopen the investigation into the deaths and to reveal what they know [although he has not backed any specific theory as to what brought about their deaths].

the bad guys ::
the soviet government and military.

the evidence :: 
how is it possible that we know so much about this case and be left feeling like we know nothing? the mountaineers recorded the progress of their expedition in meticulous detail through diaries and photographs, but that doesn't help us make any more sense of what happened to them. the facts of the situation seem to conspire against any rational explanation, but that's part of what makes this such a great mystery.

skipping straight to the night of february 1/2, when our unfortunate heroes met their horrible end, it seems that bad weather had slowed the team's progress and taken them about a mile and a half off course. straight away, the behaviour of the team seems a little odd. away from their path and with night descending, they had no choice but to stop and set up their camp. however, they did so on the exposed mountain face, rather than the treed area a short distance away, which would have offered some protection against the elements. the group's lone surviving member has posited that, on the mountain face, the group had gained more altitude and that dyatlov, as group leader, was unwilling to sacrifice that, given that they were already somewhat behind schedule and that getting themselves back to their planned route was going to take even more time.

the team had their supper together and retired to their tent for the night, but a couple of hours later, in the black of night, something roused the team from their sleep. and that's where it gets weird.


it's clear that the team fled the tent in a state of panic: rather than exiting through the customary door flap, they slashed it open from the inside and ran off into the night without even bothering to put on their coats and boots. the footprints that were found leading away from the camp indicated that at least one member of the team ran off barefoot, while others were found in their underwear. these were experienced climbers and they had to know that rushing out into the frigid -15c air [with mountain winds making it feel even colder] was a death sentence, especially without proper clothing.

WARNING- WHAT FOLLOWS CONTAINS INFORMATION AND IMAGES THAT SOME MIGHT FIND UPSETTING

21 August 2015

imperfect ten

i'm starting this post with no real idea where it's going to go, or why it's here, but i couldn't very well let this day go without saying a little something.

what day you ask?

this day!


that poor bedraggled soul is indeed me, exactly how i looked ten years ago today when i returned home from a shopping expedition where i was nearly struck by lightning and washed away with the toronto tide, toweled myself off and thought: "yes, today will be the day that i start a blog".

and so it was.

many things have changed since that day. i live in a different city. i've said goodbye to the three cats who welcomed their soggy mother home on that day. i've welcomed five new ones who fulfill all of my maternal instincts and do not expect me to send them to university or bail them out on weekends. i've become a lot more conscious about health. i've connected with a lot of people in a lot of different areas of the world, who have enriched my life a great deal. most importantly, i met dom and it's because of him that i've been able to do a lot of other things. it's with his support and encouragement that i've been able to:

  • publish an anthology of short stories
  • write a film script
  • make a feature film from that script
  • make my own short films
  • start my own company
  • publish a first novel [with the aforementioned film script]

... and to prepare for more in the future.

when i started off, i was doing a lot of very short posts, very often. if i were starting such a thing now, it would likely go on tumblr, where brief, cryptic little epistles seem the norm.

if i'd been more confident going into the blog project, i would have started podcasting. given my somewhat lengthy spell in radio, i'm a little surprised that i didn't go with that angle, but writing has always been my go-to

if i were more serious about this, i'd move it off blogger and find a way to monetize, assuming that there were people who wanted to support a site about politics, beauty, paranoia, soccer, mental health, dreams, extremely weird music, movies, restaurants, insomnia and the process of writing, with a liberal smattering of fiction just to round things off. that's not all, of course, because there's lots of things that have shown up here but not become regular features. and there will be others.

borrowed with utmost reverence from the brilliant david firth's "salad fingers"

my efforts on the blog flagged for a few years, as i tried to adjust to the realities of social media encroaching on what i'd started doing. then i changed how i thought about things and started doing things like publishing bits of my writing, in various states of readiness, writing longer posts and establishing "subgroups" for topics that i wanted to return to again and again.

i'm always fascinated to see who ends up here and how they end up here and what posts get the greatest response. one of the things that makes me the happiest is that some of the posts that get the most views and reaction are ones that are longer than most experts would advise. what do they know?

i have, of course, thought about moving more like space off blogspot and into its own domain. i'm sure it'll happen eventually, i just haven't been able to make it a priority to this point. as you can see, i'm in this for the long haul.


in the hopes that it inspires some of you to do something that makes you as happy as doing this has made me, here's the complete list of things i've learned about writing a blog:

  • it's old-fashioned at this point and no one reads them. so you don't exist.
  • you have to pick one topic and stick to it, or else werewolves from another dimension will come and eat your soul. 
  • no one reads long blog posts, except when they do. 
  • you will feel the pain of every typo you catch on your blog until your dying breath, but you will still fail to catch them. 
  • even when you think people aren't listening or reading, they are.
  • if someone implies that if you were "serious" about writing, you'd be a professional journalist and not a blogger, feel free to remind them that fox news are professional journalists. also, feel free to smack them hard enough to knock them into this century. 
  • read up on the "rules" of writing for the internet audience. learn why those are the rules. then break them. make rules for yourself. break those too. break everything. then put it back together. 

tomorrow is the beginning of a new decade here on more like space, but chances are it's just going to be more business as usual. usual for here. for me. for us.

making faces :: the more like space splurge-o-matic 2015

i'm still catching up on a few reviews, but i've been planning to do a post like this forever and i figured that, forever could mean any time and now is an any time, so now is as good a time as any to write it, right? [it's possible that i've had too much coffee today.]

when it comes to beauty, we all have areas where we like to spend and where we like to save. my preferences on the splurge-y side tend to be for colour cosmetics [lipsticks, eye shadows, blushes/ highlighters], whereas a have a stricter "ceiling" price for skin care [including lip balms/ treatments], nail polish, body care, shampoo/ conditioner and with any products i perceive as "gimmicky". i'm sure i could think up reasons why i divide up my priorities that way [and there are some that fall into a middle ground, like foundations, concealers and mascaras] but it's not particularly interesting, nor important to this post.

my point is that i've wanted to do a "splurge-o-matic" for some time, with some "learn from my spending" tips on where you might want to turn if you have a hankering to spoil yourself with a little cosmetic treat. i can't promise the list will be comprehensive, but i figure i've built up enough mileage on the credit card that i can take you a good deal of the way. clearly, the results are based on what's currently available, what i've been able to sample and my own personal preferences. if you want to get a sense of what those are, you might want to peruse the past makeup reviews here on the site.

this list is organised by product, but if you'd like to sample a particular brand, you might want to have a look at the beauty brand report card i did a few years ago [and which i plan on updating]. please feel free to get back to me with any questions you might have about the recommendations.

so here's what i'd recommend if you want to splurge on...

just a few of the beautiful bunnies
eye shadow ::

rouge bunny rouge, baby. their entire range is subtle and sophisticated, with the majority of shades being wear-wherever neutrals that remain distinctive, even in a sea of neutrals. the oiliness of my lids means that i pretty much always need to use a primer; [i find that mac paint pots are a very cost-effective way of accomplishing this: at $24cad each, they're a few dollars cheaper than most "proper" primers, but they also last about ten times as long.] my experience is that, on a good base, these shadows last extremely well and show little fading over the course of a normal day. in very hot weather, wear time is shortened and some last a little better than others at any time. overall, though, i still find myself reaching for these more than any other shadows.

but it's kind of broad to just recommend one blanket eye shadow splurge. while rbr would be my first choice overall, here are a few other recommendations 

bright shades ::

urban decay. they have a wonderful assortment of brights in their permanent lineup, plus they have the electric palette, which is like the motherload of bold shades. it's a combination of incredibly saturated colour with a high-end formula.

an eye shadow palette ::

boring choice ahoy... if you want to invest in a palette you're going to use all the time, that can give you a variety of looks for any occasion, pick up one of the urban decay naked palettes. they have two smaller "basics" versions, but this is the splurge-o-matic, so if you want to invest, stick with numbers 1, 2 and 3, which have a dozen shades each. 3 is my personal favourite.

cream/ liquid formulas ::

i approach this with a major caveat, which is that i'm allergic to a lot of these, which means that, for me, they basically fall into categories of "yeah, these are pretty nice" and "aaggghh! my eyeballs exploded!!!" so of the ones i've tried of the former category, i'd recommend...

liquid emeralds from armani
armani eye tints. new this year, but with a few additional shades already appearing in limited edition, i just love the great colour payoff and smooth finish of these thin liquid shadows. i'd give a close second to ellis faas, who have a greater range of colours and finishes, but their iconic packaging is fragile. word has it that they're making improvements to the design, to make it a little hardier.

mascara ::

this isn't something that a lot of people choose as an item to splurge on, but i will say that it's one where i notice the greatest difference from one product to another. however, i already covered this in detail, so it's probably just easier to read that post.

[it likewise seems a little weird to choose eye liner as a "splurge" item, but i don't want to judge, so i'd opt for urban decay's pencils, illamasqua's liquid formula or nars eye paints if you're up for trying a cream, because they can double as eye shadows. my all-time favourite cream is illamasqua's precision gel, but it only comes in black.]

blush ::

cheeks from nars + hourglass
this answer is even more predictable than my choice for palette splurge, but nars is the way to go. they have a wide variety of shades and, most importantly, shades that are really unique [because if you're going to splurge on something, you want it to be distinctive]. they also have a wider range of finishes, from high shine frost to matte. what really distinguishes them, though, is the high quality standard they maintain over the whole range.

i'm not an aficionado of cream and liquid formulas, so i'm of limited use to you there, sorry. dior has made the best i've tried of either, but only in limited edition, the bastards.

highlighter ::

highlighters aren't actually something i'd recommend as a first time splurge, since their effect tends to be so subtle, but if you feel comfortable with the rest of your makeup game and want to get your glow on, go with hourglass. their ambient lighting powders are worth the hype and they do each give a unique effect on the skin. they seemed gimmicky to me at first and now it's rare that i go a day without using one.

guerlain grenade, my very first

lipstick ::

if you're going to invest in a hard-copy dictionary, don't mess around: buy the oxford english. so it is with lipstick. if you're going to splurge, then splurge and buy a guerlain rouge g. most high end brands like to "lead" with their lipsticks, so there is an embarrassment of choice when it comes to these perfect little tubes of happiness and i love many of them, but there's no getting around it: rouge g's are in a class by themselves. there is a beautiful range of permanent shades that will hit most of your lipstick colour needs and the formula is almost uniformly magnificent: long-lasting, hydrating, richly pigmented. what impresses me most about these, though, is how nuanced each shade seems to be: its either more saturated, or slightly muted, or contains a faint dusting of shimmer, or has a sheen in a complementary colour, but when you see them swatched next to other lipsticks [although it's not always visible in photos] you realise: only a rouge g is a rouge g.

of course, not everyone loves full-coverage lipsticks like i do, so if you want to splurge on something a little softer...

sheer lipstick ::

i like a lot of sheerer formulas well enough, but the only one that really stands out to me as offering something different is the rouge d'armani sheer. i find that it lasts a bit longer, smudges less and balances nicely between offering enough colour to warrant purchasing a higher-priced product and allowing the natural lip colour to come through, which is the point of a sheer lipstick. it's a criminally overlooked product and they've just added a half a dozen new shades to their permanent assortment [not that you'd know it from them].

voluptuous glossiness
lip gloss ::

i feel like it would be cheating to say my favourite gloss is yves st. laurent glossy stain, because it's a much fuller-coverage product than your usual gloss, even when it's applied fairly lightly. but i'd also feel badly if i didn't mention it, because it's a remarkable formula, in a category of its own.

if we're talking real glosses- sheerer, lighter colour, lots of shine and perhaps some shimmer- i'd still have to say yves st. laurent is the winner with their gloss volupté formula. yes, the watermelon scent makes me gag and no, i'm not really a gloss girl to begin with, but these are exceptional. they're probably even more thrilling if you like watermelon.

i was going to do a section on foundations and concealers, but those products are just too complicated to recommend: you need to find one that works with your complexion, that has options to suit your colouring, that gives you the amount of coverage you want, that gives the type of finish you want, that's appropriate to the climate you live in... it's a highly personalized thing. i'd also say that these are not things you should choose for a first splurge, at least not unless you have the opportunity to test the formula beforehand. [sephora will make up handy little samples for you of any liquid foundation and a lot of concealers. a lot of online retailers will allow you to get samples of foundations with an order, so it's worth asking.]

there are also some areas where i think there's work to be done before they're splurge-worthy. liquid lipsticks are really having a moment right now, but i've never come across a formula that struck me as being so much better that it justified paying a much higher price. i do like the armani maestro, but a lot of liquid lipstick fans don't, because it doesn't set to that coveted flat matte finish that doesn't budge.

where i think there is real room for improvement, however, is in the range of colours available. brands that offer "offbeat" shades are generally those that are geared towards a younger demographic, which makes two assumptions i find baffling: 1. older women who like high end brands don't want to try new shades [which gets more ridiculous the longer it persists: people now in their fifties have seen black lipstick used in counter culture and high fashion from the time they were teenagers]; and 2. that young women won't splurge on makeup. i promise, that's not true. last year, when tom ford launched his monumental "lips & boys" collection, the first shade to sell out almost everywhere was the cool grey-taupe "stavros" [see temptalia's review here].

shades don't have to be far out of the comfort zone to be original, either. how about a little blue or green shimmer on a red or pink base? or highlighters that have a multicolour pearl, so they reflect different shades from different angles. there's lots more to do on all fronts and the penalty of not trying to offer things that are a little oddball, or risky, is that you eventually exhaust the narrower range you leave available to yourself.

17 August 2015

armchair centre back :: too soon?

before i get to the titular "too soon" section, let me apologise for being too late in congratulating both the u.s. national women's team and the chilean men's national team for their respective victories and the women's world cup and the copa america this summer. i feel a little guilty for not marching myself to see a wwc game, since they were right here in the same city as me. in fact, there's a whole slew of missed chances this summer: watching the local team compete for a place in the club world cup; greeting our new player didier drogba at the airport [actually a wise decision: it was 40c/ 100f and the packed-in crowd overflowed, so a lot of people were stuck standing in the blazing sun], seeing paris st. germain, a world class team, take on olympique lyonnais in an exhibition game. there is nothing i regret so much, though, as deciding not to show up to whip eggs at chelsea, who were using montreal as their home base for two weeks while they toured the united states. nothing haunts us like the mischief we didn't start.

but enough with regrets! it's a new season in europe, which means that dom and i have had our weekend ritual restored. it also means that i can generally tell what day of the week it is, which is something that eludes me without these sorts of markers.

for me personally, this is exciting because, not only is the premier league back, but my cable provider [i'm old-fashioned that way] has decided to pick up bundesliga games. so now i have two sources of man candy sporting entertainment. of course, i don't know the german game as well [yet] and i haven't gravitated towards one specific team at this point. i'm normally loathe to support the wealthiest team in a league that just buys up the good players from everyone, but bayern munich has bought up a lot of the players that i like, which makes that instinct complicated. of course, i also like a lot of the players with borussia dortmund... plus i've also noticed that this blog gets a roughly equal number of visits from munich and the area around dortmund, which makes it even more difficult to choose. plus, of course, there are loads more teams who i just haven't seen yet. [well, there were two who i saw annihilated by the previously mentioned ones, i suppose. i actually felt sorry for them and thought that it was merciful of the refs in both cases to decline added time. ninety minutes is more than enough when you're down that far.]

but while i'm figuring that out, there's more than enough to entertain me on english shores. so here is my list of my personal favourites, even though things are barely underway.

feel the mysterious power
swansea are undefeated. w00t!! that's especially impressive since they held chelsea [who beat them soundly, twice, last year] to a draw in their season opener. at chelsea's stamford bridge fortress. i'm a little scared that i might ever meet swansea manager garry monk, because i'm pretty certain he could convince me to don a chicken suit and run along the swansea coastline trying to sing opera if he wanted to. [and who wouldn't want that? -ed.] somehow, he's managed to recruit players who had every chance of being picked up by larger teams [jefferson montero, who was a bright spot in the otherwise lacklustre ecuadorian team at the 2014 world cup, bafétimbi gomis, and andre ayew], teams that are getting much-coveted european play. and he's convinced them to come to swansea. hell, he's even managed to score two phenomenal players- ayew and goalkeeper lukas fabianski, for free. this man has powers.

"nobody loves me..."
everyone seems to hate jose mourinho more than i do. i wouldn't have guessed that were possible, but it's become really hard to find anyone who's willing to say a nice word about a man who was held in a sort of awe when his team- a team that's virtually unchanged this year- easily trotted off with the league title for 2014/15. people talked about him like he wasn't even fucking human, although that's possibly just them sensing that he's the antichrist. i read an article earlier referring to him as "toxic", slating him for his extremely public feud with his popular team doctor eva carneiro and rumoured falling out with his team captain john terry [i don't have a dog in that race, because they're both pretty risible characters] and, of course, the fact that his team have stumbled badly coming out of the gate. his egotism and petulance were forgivable when he was triumphant, but you sort of suspect that a lot of people were waiting for this. [no one more so than his nemesis arsène wenger, who blanked him like a boss after he finally defeated him in the battle for all of our souls community shield.]



on a related note, chelsea may have been taken over by pod people. if you hear a soft, sort of grating or chafing, it's the sound of thousands of heads being scratched as people ask themselves "what the hell happened?" it's not merely that they've salvaged just one point in two games- lots of people have sputtering starts- it's the way in which they've struggled that's astonishing. their defense, better than a cast iron chastity belt at preventing penetration last year, has been their weakest link. there's lots of time for them to get their old form back, but until then, let's all enjoy looking at the very early premier league table, shall we? look down, look wwaaaaaaayyyy down...

you know, swansea weren't outside the top ten once last season

there's a good[ish] chance that there will be some wild cards in the mix with the big guys this year. ok, it always looks like that after a couple of games, when normally middling teams get a couple of easy matches and run up some points. but aside from swansea looking solid [hope springs eternal], there are a few "dark horses" who've looked not lucky, but impressive: last season's late bloomers leicester have scored as many goals as heavy-hitters manchester city. west ham looked like champions league material against arsenal. crystal palace have been motherfucking elegant [yes, exactly that] and are so replete with goalscorers that manager alan pardew [on the cusp of being the winning-est manager the blub has had in premier league history after just over half a season in charge] is faced with having to sell one just because he can't make time for all of them. i'm not a fan
the best little brick shithouse in switzerland
of stoke, but they have signed xherdan shaqiri, a player i do really like and they have been building a pretty solid squad for years. yes, it's early. yes, it's unlikely that all these teams, or even most of these teams, can maintain their momentum. but isn't it fun to cheer an underdog? and besides, three of the four have already acquitted themselves well against top-tier teams, the ones who are perpetually competing for the league title, at least in theory.

unfortunately, there are also already things that are sucking donkey parts about this new season and in the interest of fairness and balance, i need to mention those too:

arsenal what the actual fuck? ok, they did win against crystal palace this weekend, but they really didn't make it look easy. their rising star from last season, francis coquelin, was extremely lucky not to get his ass thrown off the pitch. at least in this game, a handful of players were literally and figuratively on the ball, because the week before, they were nigh on tragic. thus far, marquee signing petr cech has looked like he would be more at home in this year's chelsea team. a lot of people were picking arsenal and chelsea to be fighting it out tooth and nail for the title [possibly for real, given the relationship between the managers]. at the moment, neither one of them is setting the world on fire.

no good can come of this
somebody needs to smack manchester united. hard. despite spending something like $10 billion on bringing in all the players this summer, manchester united have arguably been worse on the field than either chelsea or arsenal. [in fact, the only "big" team that's looked big is manchester city. and indeed, they have looked very big indeed, with six goals thus far and zero conceded. again, i normally hate the moneyed crowd, but at this point, they seem like the dignified "old money" next to the nouveau riche neighbours straight out of whatever manchester has in place of trailer parks.] nonetheless, they've managed to eke out two 1-0 victories that they absolutely did not deserve. that happened a lot last year, too, which just makes it seem that much more like a conspiracy. also, manager louis van gaal is nearly as objectionable as mourinho, although they're friends, which makes a lot of sense.

predictions for the rest of the season? oh, i don't know. i want to think that swansea can inch up a
what are they doing with my money?
little, besting their record-breaking season from last year. a lot depends on how healthy they stay, since that's almost always the downfall of less wealthy teams as the season drags on and people inevitably get hurt. [am i the only one who's a little troubled that it's inevitable that people get hurt? it seems like it should be evitable.] that said, last year's cinderellas southampton and regular contenders tottenham have both looked a little shaken thus far. so it could happen. the gomis-ayew-montero-shelvey-sigurdsson lineup they have going is the strongest they've put forward.

chelsea are going to start winning at some point, but if they don't seem to resume a commanding presence, expect team owner roman abramovitch, who's said "you're fired" to more people than donald trump, to start putting the screws to his manager.

arsenal need to do some more business before the transfer window closes at the end of the month. i'm still a little miffed that they didn't sign arturo vidal [remember what i said about bayern picking up players i really like?] when he seemed interested. or morgan schneiderlin, who seemed like he was waiting for them until the last possible second before moving to manchester united. there's a lot of "is he or isn't he? will they or won't they?" buzz about the team adding striker karim benzema, or possibly edison cavani. i can't explain why, but neither of those guys really does it for me. that's in no
him?
way denying their enviable talents, it's just that... oh, i don't know. call it a gut feeling. i'd honestly be much more excited by the prospect of pierre-emerick aubamayang [if only because his name is the most fun thing to say ever in history], or if they're serious about parting with crazy money, luis suarez or gareth bale [note: neither of those deals is ever going to happen.]. alternately, if we're going to broaden the horizons to include "general goal scorers", i'd love to see any of: marco reus, antoine griezman, mario götze or [cue angelic choir sounds] thomas muller. i share with admiral wenger a love for very flexible players, so i'm kinda surprised that we aren't seeing eye to eye on this one. here's hoping he doesn't just keep the wallet glued shut, as he was known for doing up until the last couple of years.

finally, i think that people are vastly underestimating liverpool. they've ended up with the same two scores as manchester united, but they've looked sooooo much better doing it. they've bought smarter [and faster] than anyone this year, after a decidedly off season. i'm surprised that no one is backing them to finish in the coveted top four.

so that's it. that's everything i've learned from the last two weekends. the real stories now are going to be about who's moving where, which always plays out like a high school gossip session where all the seniors are billionaires. honestly, i'm not certain that anything that exciting will happen. there are a few things that i'd like to see happen, but, well, i'd like lots of things that never happen. never.

16 August 2015

paranoid theory of the week :: are the oldest pyramids on earth located in bosnia?

in central bosnia, just 30km northwest of sarajevo lies the medieval capital of visoki. the area has been continuously inhabited for four thousand years, owing to its perfect location along both the bosna and fojnica rivers and in proximity to visočica hill, whose 213m height made the settlement easily defensible. it was an important city during the time of the bosnian empire, but by the early sixteenth century, it had been abandoned. in its wake, the city of visoko sprung up just adjacent to the original settlement, in the shadow of the castle town whose ruins can still be seen [and visited!].

years of civil war have caused irreparable damage to the balkans [didn't we talk about this not so long ago?], but visoko has proved shockingly resilient. and as a sense of normalcy has returned to the area, it's no wonder that a lot of curious tourists have started to flood into all the balkan states, to take in the glories of a lesser-known part of europe, rich in history, but lacking the glitz of the continent's better-known destinations.

since 2005, however, people have specifically descended on visoko for one thing: to visit the [in]famous bosnian pyramids. yes, the theory has been put forward that the unusual-looking visočica hill is actually an ancient pyramid- possibly the oldest pyramid in the world- and that it is flanked by others. such a discovery would be huge. no, i'm not giving that enough emphasis: such a discovery would be megagigantichuge, because as far as we've been able to tell, the people who lived in the region thousands of years ago were still getting the hang of building fire and a shelter in such a way that they could enjoy the benefits of both. we would have to rethink much of what we know about european history, nay world history in order to accommodate a discovery of this magnitude.

and so the question must be asked: do we need to start the great rethinking?

one of the tunnels that leads to the pyramid. from trip advisor.
the theory ::
there is at least one, probably two and as many as five step pyramids located underneath visočica hill in bosnia.

the origin :: 
an american-croatian archaeologist named semir osmanagić made the claim after he was invited to visit the medieval ruins in 2005. he published a book on the subject the following year, and we were off to the races.

the believers ::
more than this sort of story normally gets. osmanagić, of course, has never backed off his claims. but his theories have also been accepted by bosnian politicians, segments of the sarajevo media and a lot of bosnians who like the idea that they might just be descended from a magnificent lost civilisation and that they've been sitting on top of the proof for thousands of years.

the bad guys ::
"big history"? the archaeological community has vehemently shot down any argument that there are pyramids hidden under the medieval ruins. and most recently, wikipedia

the evidence ::
well let's deal with the obvious: just look at the god-damned thing.

it's not exactly a rorschach blot

if someone asked you to describe that hill, 90% of you would probably say "it's pyramid-shaped". and indeed, that was what osmanagić said triggered his curiosity. nature has a way of shaping things, even things that stick out in the landscape. drumlins left by the movement of glaciers, jut out from the flat plains around them, but they maintain a rounded teardrop shape that seems perfectly in keeping with the natural world. sharp lines don't fit that pattern at all and in a lot of cases, the presence of landscape anomalies has indicated exactly what osmanagić says: there's something constructed underneath.

the response made by geologists and archaeologists is that, in fact, nature does sometimes break pattern and create sharp-angled, flat-faced hills known as flatirons. so there goes that argument, right?

well... maybe. no one disputes the existence of flatirons, but they don't tend to crop up in europe. the best known examples are all in the united states and all of them are leaning against part of the rocky mountain chain. in fact, one of the key features of a flatiron is that it is found on the slopes of a much larger mountain, which visočica certainly isn't. a search for "flatiron hills in europe" yields precisely one result:

also, from experience, just don't bring your flat iron to europe

[side note :: a detailed article about the bosnian pyramids in the smithsonian magazine cites another european example, the "russian twin pyramids", but that mention is the only one i could find of those hills that doesn't involve a claim that they're not natural either.]

even a well-known egyptologist who visited the site in 2007, after hearing that bosnia's "pyramid of the sun", if legit, was larger than the great pyramid in egypt, was unwilling to say for certain that the hill wasn't man-made, noting simply what everyone else had observed: it looks like a pyramid.

the ottoman bridge
but osmanagić's claims are undone in great measure by his own research. when he excavated underneath the fortress to obtain core samples from the hill, the geologists he hired to analyse them found that they were comprised of the same stuff as the entire area: soft sedimentary layers of clay, sandstone and other materials displaced by spring river flooding underneath jagged pieces of brittle crust forced up by tectonic movement and giving the whole thing its distinctive flat surface. [which would conform to the makeup of other known flatirons.] forensically, the debate ends there: as anomalous as european flatirons might be, if what's underneath them is explained by geology, then that's what they are.

osmanagić later claimed to have found evidence of stone blocks , which would constitute indisputable evidence of human construction if they were able to be verified. although osmanagić has claimed that this has been done, no one else has stepped forward to back him up on this. he has also claimed to have found a 12,000 year old burial mound [although it has produced no bodies] in the same vicinity as further evidence of a lost civilisation. his latest work involves the excavation of tunnels that he claims lead to visočica. [although the extent to which they're being "excavated" as opposed to "created" remains unclear.]

banja luka, bosnia's second largest city
a lot of opinions on the tale of the bosnian pyramids are swayed by opinions of the man responsible for finding or inventing them. osmanagić doesn't have a history [as many celebrity archaeologists do] of being caught fabricating evidence. indeed, he seems to pursue his passion for unearthing the history of his homeland with a fervour that would shame joan of arc. but there's no doubt that the pursuit of the pyramids has been lucrative: he's received significant sums from the bosnian government [during a time when the national archives has been starved for money to repair damage to its veriafiable collection of historical artefacts], as well as private donations, including substantial funds from eccentric malaysian billionaire vincent tan [before he moved on to buying soccer clubs for fun].

osmanagić's ideas are "out there" in a most literal sense, tied to new age theories of atlantean societies and contact with alien civilisations that would make even the most imaginative archaeologist flinch.

likelihood :: 0/10
there are no pyramids in bosnia. there is no evidence of an ancient lost society beyond the imaginings of the man who claims to have discovered it. the answer is in the evidence above: geology trumps the visual and thus far the only confirmed independent evaluation says that there is nothing to see there.

so why bother talking about it? well, it's partly because osmanagić has been so phenomenally successful in selling his story that it makes an interesting case study. it's like the music man [the 1962 musical probably best known for its reincarnation as "homer versus the monorail" in the simpsons] brought to life in eastern europe. he's engaged people with a fantasy, to the point where there are pyramid-themed hotels, restaurants and shops and flocks of tourists who come to experience the magic. there is something heartbreaking about a modern nation willingly gouging holes in its historical icons in pursuit of a dream.

waterfall in jajce
nor does the power of his arguments end in bosnia. the bosnian pyramids have garnered attention from sources that are by no means on the fringes: no less an authority than national geographic published an extremely even-handed article on the subject in 2006; the smithsonian article linked above dates from 2009. 

in 2011, osmanagić's group won a court battle against the increasingly reticent bosnian government to allow them to explore the site even further.

it raises questions of how far one must go in order to prove, categorically and beyond reasonable doubt that such a theory isn't true. even the exercise is a logical impossibility: it's a given that one cannot prove the non-existence of something, and that the burden falls to those who would prove that it does exist. court systems around the world employ the principle of reasonable doubt when determining the guilt or innocence of individuals, but in political discourse [and world history is political], our acceptance that absolute certainty is impossible abandons us. and that isn't without costs. money, labour and time are lost every time people argue that not every avenue has been exhausted. in the face of perfectly sound evidence, governments, the media, businesspersons, citizens and judges continue to be afflicted with what i'll term "x-files syndrome": they want to believe.

kravice waterfalls, located in europe's last surviving jungle rainforest. fuck pyramids.

14 August 2015

world wide wednesdays :: romantic traffic

a friend on facebook posted this article earlier on amnesty international's push to have sex work decriminalized. it sparked a debate about how helpful such a process would actually be and i find myself still mulling over the good arguments on both sides: there's the familiar [predominantly north american and european] argument that legality is a pathway to social acceptability and that it affords sex trade workers protections they can't get as long as they're treated as criminals. the flip side of that is that the vast majority of sex workers [particularly outside of north america and europe] are involved in the business because they are forced to be and making it legal implies approval of a system that enslaves women [because the vast majority of sex workers are women] and can give those who exploit them the cover of law. [if you don't think that's a potentially huge problem, consider how labour law is weighted in favour of the employer.] it also bears consideration that those arguments are not mutually exclusive and dealing with the problems of the sex trade [as well as the problems that people have with the sex trade] requires addressing both issues.

i don't pretend to have answers, but i thought that, in an attempt to figure out a stance, i'd dedicate this week's world wide wednesday to a look at the business of sex around the world.

legal status of prostitution


for starters, there's the question of where it's legal and what exactly is meant by "legal". most people know that over great swathes of europe, prostitution is legal and by and large unrestricted, except when it comes to minors. the same is true over much of south and central america as well. on both continents, however, there are a number of caveats in place that are intended to make prostitution safer for the prostitutes themselves [or to keep prostitution away from certain areas], for instance:

  • france, denamark, cyprus, costa rica, mexico and el salvador (among others) prohibit soliciting, abetting or profiting from the prostitution of another. many more countries have laws against operating brothels, but don't specifically forbid pimping. 
  • colombia has rules specifically to prevent sex tourism and the punishments are pretty serious: up to eight years in prison for those who organize and/ or facilitate. 
  • ecuador, greece, latvia, turkey, senegal and a few others require prostitutes to register with the government and to get health checks periodically. 
  • certain islamic countries allow "short-term marriages" to get around laws against prostitution. the man actually marries the prostitute for a few hours and divorces her immediately afterward. and no, she doesn't get to take half his stuff. those rules usually just apply to locals, though, not visitors.

in other areas, prostitution is restricted, which means that it's legal in some circumstances and illegal in a lot of others. that can encompass a wide range of options, so if you're planning on sampling the sexual wares of your chosen vacation spot, you might want to make sure you know exactly what's allowed and what isn't. here are a few examples:

  • the so-called "scandinavian model", favoured by many women's groups, makes prostitution legal, but soliciting sex is not. 
  • in japan, it's illegal to solicit or provide intercourse, but other acts are fair game. 
  • in bangladesh, female prostitution is legal, but male prostitution is not. 
  • the united kingdom, india and certain other countries haven't specifically made it illegal, but almost everything associated with prostitution is illegal, so you might want to get a lawyer's advice before taking the plunge. 
  • in australia and the united states, laws are passed on a more local level. a lot of people know that prostitution is legal in nevada, but in fact it's only legal in certain counties [11 of them and none in the cities]. every australian province has different rules and while prostitution is somewhat legal everywhere, there's a wide range of restrictions that vary from place to place. 

a small group of countries just don't address the issue: bulgaria, lesotho, mozambique, and indonesia don't have laws on the books. in indonesia, there are laws about public morals and decency which are occasionally used to crack down on prostitution, but the world's most populous islamic nation is surprisingly tolerant. [side note :: a number of countries have laws against prostitution, but don't really enforce them, especially in asia. still, if you get arrested, you're on the wrong side of the law.]

all in all, there are over a hundred countries where prostitution is illegal. punishments range from death by stoning in afghanistan [for any woman who has sex out of wedlock] to croatia, where most charges result in a fine. of course, any arrest gives the person arrested a criminal record, which in many cases doubly victimizes the sex worker, most of whom are forced into the trade to begin with. once in, it can be extremely difficult to get out: high end madams like heidi fleiss might make the news, but they are very much the exception. [side note :: in the middle ages across much of europe and asia, someone who worked with wealthy clientele wouldn't have even been considered a prostitute, but a courtesan. unlike common prostitutes, a courtesan could become quite powerful, while remaining independent. when the first laws against prostitution came onto the books, they were specifically worded to protect these women, usually stipulating that a prostitute was a woman who would have sex with anyone at all, as opposed to one who chose her clients from among the nobility and the elite.]

i think most of us know instinctively that glamourous call girls to the stars are not the norm, but it begs the question: who are the prostitutes?

  • there are roughly 42 million prostitutes in the world
  • 75% are between the ages of 13 and 25
  • 2 million are children 
  • child prostitution rates are highest in sri lanka, thailand, brazil, the united states and canada [where first nations and inuit children are especially at risk]
  • 75-80% are women and girls, 20-25% are men and boys [in america, men tend to start younger, but also get out younger, since most of them do not have pimps]
  • anywhere from 65 to 95% of prostitutes come from abusive homes
  • 60-75% have been raped during their time as a prostitute
  • 81% of prostitutes in the united states want to get out of their profession 

i'd like to call your attention to that last figure in particular, because it's a stinking point in the debate over legalization. there are women and men who are willingly part of the sex trade and who would choose to continue working in it. it's clearly not the majority, but one in five is not an insignificant number. keeping prostitution illegal is preventing these women and men from making a living in a field they've chosen in spite of the risks and denying them the ability to make their trade safer, healthier and more lucrative. however, there are also four in five that want to move on and feel that they can't. some might change their minds if they were offered greater security and greater independence, but it's safe to assume that a considerable majority would still want to leave. "happy hooker" [or at least, willing hooker] is one who is usually independent [i.e., not controlled by a pimp] and white. she's usually someone who can work out of a brothel or other comparatively safe space to begin with. and she's mostly found in the wealthiest parts of the world, where she can command higher prices for her services. any final answer to the puzzle of global prostitution needs to account for those who are happy to continue with their work. but it primarily needs to address the plight of the more than 80% who aren't. when people argue about the dangers of complete legalization, the counter-argument is often given that many choose prostitution of their own free will. but a lot more don't, especially in poorer countries. [side note :: nor are prostitutes in wealthier countries necessarily from those countries. many, especially in europe, travel to areas where money is more readily available, which is why addressing the issues of prostitution only on a nation by nation basis is problematic.]

two terms that are often confused, and which do often co-exist, are prostitution and sex trafficking. the former refers simply to remuneration for sexual services. the latter is broader and is used to describe a situation where a person is recruited, transported, harboured and exploited for sexual purposes. it can include prostitution, but it can also refer to people sold into sexual slavery or forced to work in pornography. the key element in sexual trafficking is that of coercion by another, so it necessarily excludes willing participants in the sex trade.

prevalence of human trafficking worldwide


criticisms of legalization in countries like germany, have made the argument that while the the laws may intend to help the former, the "independent entrepreneurs", the excess demand it creates actually favours the traffickers, who can quickly and cheaply recruit new prostitutes. it could be, and has been, pointed out that those two things are not mutually exclusive: both sex work entrepreneurs and human traffickers can benefit from the loosening of prostitution law. and as with every other type of market, a lot is going to depend on the customers: good employers will provide safer, cleaner environments and customers will go to them because they appreciate that and because they want to support a business that doesn't exploit workers or cut corners in order to lower prices or maximize profits. those involved in the trafficking industry will be able to offer services for much cheaper. now think about how many consumers choose to shop at walmart to save money.

the easy solution is to legalize prostitution while making trafficking criminal. however, if you read the der spiegel article linked above, the problem is with the enforcement. girls [and boys] who are dependent on their pimps/ procurers for food and shelter are never going to feel free to talk to the police during an inspection, even though that's their right. so clearly there is also a need to provide sex workers with the opportunity to talk to authorities outside of their place of employment and to create a "path to safety" for those who are being exploited.


going back to the amnesty international policy that was our starting point, it should be noted that they specifically refer to supporting legalization for the "consensual" sex industry. separating consensual from non-consensual participation can be difficult and has caused a backlash. there are others against the policy who have a much deeper issue: that prostitution opens a dangerous door to the buying and selling [or at least renting] of human beings and, since the majority of workers are overwhelmingly female, perpetuates a system in which women are simply used for their sexual parts. the argument that prostitution has been around since ancient times and is going nowhere may seem practical, but it's nonsensical: most dominant civilizations were built through the use of slave labour, but slavery is now illegal. more problematic is the question of the 20%: does the greater society have the right to bar willing participants from a certain line of work because it is possibly harmful. and if they do, where does that line of logic eventually lead?

it's not as simple as saying one is "for" or "against" the legalization of sex work. but with millions of lives affected by the "skin trade" and its variable legality, we shouldn't be allowing the fact that it's complicated stop us from working on the issue.
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