30 November 2015

mental health mondays :: beautiful minds

a friend posted this article on facebook this morning and i thought that it was a lovely way to brighten up a decided gloomy november monday, when many people reading this are recovering from a long weekend. [i'm not, but since i work from home, weekends are a bit ephemeral.]

the article has more information on the techniques used, but here's my summary: greg dunn is an artist who originally started out on a very different path. he holds a phd in neuroscience and has used his earlier work to inspire his creativity. using painting and etching techniques, he makes art from microscopic images taken of human brains.

he makes doodles of your noodle.

while his work might not tell you anything about your mental health, it does provide a remarkable insight into the complexity of the human brain and all of the things that dwell within it. and i have to agree that there is an intrinsic similarity between the minutiae of our minds and the sparse, elegant beauty of asian, or asian-inspired, art. is part of our connection to abstract art based on the fact that we can quite literally sense something of ourselves in it? i have no idea, but doesn't that seem like it might make an interesting topic for a research paper? sort of like how we are naturally attracted to people who resemble ourselves or our parents.

here are a few pieces of dunn's artwork to enjoy, but for a really in-depth look and to see pieces he has for sale, be sure to check out his web site.





29 November 2015

armchair centreback :: success through pizza and punching

say my name!
first off all, a mighty round of congratulations to mr. jamie vardy, who is now not only the top scorer in the premier league, but the man who holds the record for the longest run of games [eleven, as of today] in which he's scored. not bad for a guy who three years ago was practicing his shot-taking with his garage door. i assure you, no soccer fan today hears the name jamie vardy and wonders who you're talking about. hats' off to you, young sir. [he's 28. that's not young for a professional soccer player by any stretch. -ed.] [way to make me want to hang myself. -kate.]

of course, when people do hear about vardy's record-breaking weekend, there is a very good chance they will have an arrested development moment: "him?" after all, the man whose record he bested, ruud van nistelrooy, is regarded as one of the finest midfielders ever in the modern premier league era, an icon of the ferguson era manchester united that dispatched opponents like the eye of sauron turned on a pesky mosquito. jamie vardy is a member of a team that, this time last year, was so far in the bottom of the league that even the teams near the relegation zone couldn't see them anymore. then the team mounted one of the most unbelievable comebacks in history, which has seen the former cellar-dwellers lose two games since april of this year. today's tie means they're pushed a point back in the standings, but at the beginning of the weekend, they were the top team in league and are still a tight second. 

from another perspective, leicester city, with a wage budget of just over fifty million pounds, today held the mighty manchester, with a budget seven times that amount, to a tie. a cash outlay that would be significant to a lot of nations has left the "new new" manchester united as the stingiest defense in the league, which is like waking up one morning and finding out that channing tatum is suddenly known solely for his nuanced acting skills. leicester, by contrast, have a more porous defense, but make up for that by scoring lots and lots and lots, which is exactly what united used to do. [there's an added strangeness to watching the two teams play because anchoring the leicester team is goalkeeper kasper schmeichel, the son and near doppleganger of peter schmeichel, who skilfully managed the goal for manchester united during the ferguson glory days.]

the viking genes are strong here
although leicester's enviable form spans two seasons and two managers, it's pretty obvious that current manager claudio ranieri is doing something right. and what he's doing right appears to be pizza parties. whereas the dour louis van gaal talks about how his players don't dare question him, ranieri promises pizza for all if the team keeps a clean sheet. leicester players might not be making manchester united money, but you can be sure that they can afford their own pizza. with extra cheese. you see what's happening here: it's not exactly about the pizza. 

in another, more northern part of the country, a much-loved team with a lot of frustrated fans of late has also made a managerial change. last year, dom's wish for his beloved arsenal was that they finally cut the strangely knotted cords that have bound them to manager arsène wenger and bring in the then manager of borussia dortmund, jürgen klopp. if you ever wanted proof that santa is kind of a cunt, not only did he fail to deliver klopp to arsenal, but a few weeks into this season, the man took the helm at liverpool. 

of course, if you follow the sport at all, you know this, because you couldn't possibly not know it. the excitement of having one of the hottest managers on the planet come to anfield has outpaced the fervour for any player on the team. for any player on any team, with the possible exception of vardy. then again, it's not hard to see why. 

after a year of the self-important grandstanding of not-so-much-value-for-money van gaal, or the increasingly erratic antichrist jose mourinho, klopp is like an almost literal ray of sunshine, with that [bleached] golden mop and [bleached] dazzling smile. tall, handsome and oozing charisma from every pore, he's also refreshingly down to earth. in his first press conference, he parried mourinho's self-selected moniker of "the special one" by calling himself "the normal one". sports reporters throughout the country have been fawning over him like groupies, but when you consider that they've been on a steady diet of mourinho tantrums, you get it. i'm guessing that the press room at the recent liverpool-chelsea game required a healthy supply of smelling salts to revive journalists after they fainted from sheer ecstasy. 

cue the choirs of angels
klopp is the real deal. he managed to take borussia dortmund to the top of the german bundesliga while spending a fraction [a moderately large fraction, but still fractional] of normal champions bayern munich. after a rough start the following year and after piggy old bayern gouged his team of their best players, dortmund rallied to climb far enough back up the table to at least qualify for european football. the improvement in liverpool, even if they're still struggling to score goals [again, contrary to what's normally been the case], they look like they just won the lottery. 

the new manager hasn't spent a cent on talent. even with an injury to his natural first choice striker daniel sturridge that seems to have persisted for longer than sturridge has been alive, he's worked with what he's been given and thus far has lost only one game in all competitions. [to crystal palace and alan pardew, who might be the most underrated manager in the premier league.] he hasn't handed out new bonuses, he hasn't even made radical changes to the weekly lineup. but this is still a completely different group than the one that started the season. because, one suspects, they're just as enthralled with having him as everyone else. he's known for his animated, passionate style, which has been on full display since his arrival. he's also known for an energetic, physical interaction with his players, spending time one on one with each of them and thinking nothing of playfully smacking them in the head as a way of getting them psyched up for a game, something that would sound like a bad cliché of a high school football coach if it didn't seem to be working so well. 

as chelsea improbably continue to flounder and jose mourinho and his bully tactics seem to have worn thin with his players, as they almost always do over three years with him, it does seem like there's been a sea change in what works when managing a multi-million dollar enterprise for the most popular sport in the world. so what's the magic spell? 

treat the game like it's a game. no one will die because of it, but that doesn't make getting excited about it any less enjoyable. so yes, there's a lot of money at play. but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have some fun.
as a manager, you are a boss whose employee base is made up entirely of young men, many of them barely out of or still in their teens. and all the big salaries and media stardom doesn't change the fact that young men want to feel appreciated and they want to feel that sense of bonding with those around them. 

so sometimes, it's about more than tactics and training. sometimes, a good performance is as simple as pizza or a punch in the arm. 

26 November 2015

making faces :: oh my, it's more armani-ness

i did promise a while back that i had a bunch more armani trinkets to show you and it's about damn time i got around to making good on that promise. last time around, i looked at the eye tints that armani had launched in the late summer/ early fall, which somehow ended up following me home when i wasn't paying attention. [yes, that is the best story i could come up with.] this time around, i'm looking at some of the luscious lip products that blew in through the window to keep their friends company.

starting with familiar territory, armani staged a "stealth launch" of half a dozen new shades of their rouge d'armani sheer lipstick formula. unfortunately, i haven't managed to find more than three of the six new shades and i've found different ones at different counters. i'm guessing that this may be somewhat easier if you live in a place that has more or larger armani counters. certainly, it's less of an issue if you can order from armani directly, since everything is in stock there. here's a look at the shades that were released [credit to instagrammer tuksya, who is a great source of things armani]:




of the ones i did find, the one that i knew immediately i couldn't live without was #403 "burning sun". it's a fascinating shade that is likely to vary a lot from one person to  another. the based is a papaya orange, but there's some extremely fine shimmer in pink and violet that gives it a much cooler sheen. the overall colour looks a little bit more like the inside of a pink grapefruit when seen from a distance. the shimmer doesn't read as frosty at all, merely as a veil of cool pink over the warmer orange base. it's this sort of shade that draws people to higher end lipsticks to begin with, i think. it's subtle and the clash of shades lurking within it makes for something a little surreal when seen up close, but subtle and ladylike at more of a distance.

while it falls well short of opacity, "burning sun" packs a lot of [tropical fruit] punch, so it's not the sort of thing that will go unnoticed.

403/ burning sun
i struggled to find shades that looked like this one. nars "autumn leaves" is fairly close to the base [orange] colour, but looks darker and browner because of "burning sun's" overlay. the closest shade i found was chanel "mandarin", one of their discontinued rouge allure lacque liquid lipsticks. "mandarin" is redder and more opaque, but it has that same "cool over warm" feeling to it.

l to r :: nars autumn leaves, burning sun, chanel mandarin [d.c.]
i wish that armani would pay more attention to this formula, which hasn't been properly refreshed [where they let people know that it's being done] since its launch in 2012. it's a very nice balance for a sheer lipstick: even colour, moderate translucency, somewhat moisturizing and i find it longer lasting and less prone to migrating or feathering than a lot of semi-sheer formulas. here's a review and swatches of all six new shades, because armani certainly doesn't want to help you find out anything about them.

here's a quick look at "burning sun" in action, back when we had some burning sun around.




i unfortunately didn't write down what else i'm wearing, although i *think* there are some shades from the original urban decay naked palette on my eyes.

i'm going to give the company a little benefit of the doubt and theorise that maybe they weren't paying close attention to the new sheer colours, because they were focused on the brand new rouge ecstasy lacquer line that was following hot on its heels. and i can't really blame them for that. at first, i was shocked that they were revamping their lip gloss line yet again, because they've done it two times in the last four years. but it turns out that while the ecstasy lacquers look glossy, they're not really glosses. or they are glosses, but they're not glosses the way that other glosses are glosses.

i've lost you, haven't i?

world wide wednesdays :: sex and violence

today is apparently the international day to eliminate violence against women, the beginning of sixteen days of activism against gender-based violence that ends on december 10, which is human rights day. given thst, i thought it would be a good day to explore the perils of being a woman in different parts of the world, as well as the progress that's been made. the fact that there is still plenty to do in order to achieve equality in the western world [and the fact that advances that have been made are always fragile, as is seen in the ongoing american debate over access to abortion], can cause us to lose focus on exactly how big the challenges are in other places. we hear about the brutal practice of female genital mutilation, but there are a lot of other dangers women continue to face, including both violence and structural impediments to independence and security.

before completely moving away from the first world, however, it's interesting to note that, while wealthy countries are generally safer, more secure and more equal for women, some of them have some pretty nasty secrets:

the nordic countries- denmark, finland, and sweden- have the highest rates of violence against women in all of europe. that's shocking, considering that these are the countries that routinely lead all structural categories in terms of gender equality [literacy and education, minimal to no wage gap, high rates of representation in the workforce and in the government]. my first inclination was to think that these countries had laws that defined a wider range of actions as violent and/ or illegal, but looking at the article, it seems that researchers asked about specific actions, so what is or isn't illegal in any particular country wouldn't matter.

canada, which has been rated the best country for women to live in the recent past, has been singled out for criticism by amnesty international for ignoring the much higher rates of violence towards aboriginal women. that actually means that things are even better for the rest of us than it appears, but hidden inside those numbers are some very harsh realities.

a family member feeds a banished menstruating woman in nepal
in carefree australia, nearly 40% of women reported experiencing some type of violence during their lifetime, and almost 20% said specifically that they had reported sexual violence. [data here, along with a lot of information on other countries. this was compiled by the united nations in 2012, however some of the most recent data is significantly older than that.]

so if things can get that bad in the countries that are good, how bad do they get in the rest of the world?

well, let's start off by talking about the worst of the worst. there are different ways of determining the absolute worst place for a woman, but it's best to look at a combination of factors: the chance of being subjected to physical and/ or sexual violence, the [in]ability to exercise control over one's own life, ability to work and live independently [determined by education level and the chances of finding employment in current economic conditions], longevity [which is a measure of general health and a measure of access to health care services] and political power [determined not just by voting rights, but by representation in parliament and in cabinet].

looking at all those factors, you'd be hard-pressed to find a place that's worse for women than afghanistan. life expectancy for a woman is only forty-five years. more than half of brides are younger than sixteen. 85% of women have experienced some form of domestic violence. a woman dies in childbirth every half hour. the taliban were bad enough for women's rights, but after a wave of reforms enacted by the post-taliban government, it seems that things are getting worse. laws passed to improve the position of women in afghanistan after the taliban were deposed have been overturned, hung up in parliamentary debate, or left largely unenforced.    

you could also look at syria, where women's participation in the workforce sits at a measly 14% [as opposed to 76% of men]. before its current civil strife, syria had a solid middle class [much like iraq, before the first american war there devastated its economy], but the position of women in government was pathetic: 12% of parliamentary seats and 9% of cabinet positions were held by women. the plight of women in syria has only gotten worse as the civil war there has progressed and as islamic state has taken control of large parts of the country. isis dictates that women be severely restricted in education [beginning no earlier than seven and ending no later than fifteen years of age] and that they can be married off to fighters from the age of nine. they are given no role in public life and are forced to remain completely covered at all times.

women in chad
the thing is, afghanistan and syria are war zones, which aren't the best place to evaluate quality of life. women in afghanistan may have a life expectancy of a meagre forty-five years, but men can only expect to live a year longer. women in syria have a life expectancy of sixty-five years, which is short in western terms but, since the onset of the civil war, is still ten years longer than a syrian man can expect to live.

so perhaps it's best to evaluate the position of women by looking at areas outside of war zones. [side note :: likewise, countries like honduras, venezuela and colombia, which have extremely high crime rates overall are exceptionally dangerous for women. women are often subject to kidnapping, sexual violence and murder, and crimes against them are treated less seriously than those against men. one has only to look at the horrific spate of murders in and around ciudad juarez for an example of this.]

for instance, in iran, only 17% of women participate in the workforce. that's the worst in the world outside of active war zones and, because that isn't depressing enough, they make only 17% of what men make. there's clearly a prejudice at work here, because, while there is a gender gap in terms of literacy, 79% of women still qualify as literate [compared to 89% of men]. religious leaders [who are also state leaders in the theocracy] have put additional pressure on women to stay at home and raise children rather than enter the workforce. women's participation in government is already low and in the last federal elections, all female candidates were disqualified.

in nepal, normally thought of as a peaceful country nestled in the heart of the himalayas, women's rights are more of a rumour than anything else. 1 in 24 women dies in childbirth, largely due to hindu and buddhist religious beliefs that prevent them from having their babies in hospitals. after childbirth, women are often forced to stay in remote, unhygienic locations, away from their homes, for up to two weeks. child marriage and human trafficking of young orphaned or unmarried women is still widely practiced. women who are married, but outlive their husbands are often stigmatized [and persecuted] as witches.

an afghani child bride who escaped her abusive husband
large swathes of africa remain incredibly dangerous and difficult for women. mali and chad are especially bad. the labour force disparity is not as bad in either country as it is in other places, but that is largely the result of an economy based on subsistence agriculture in both places. in both countries, only about a quarter of women are literate [chad fairing slightly better at 28% to mali's 25%] and female enrollment in even primary school is below 65% in both countries. the participation of women in government in both countries is among the lowest in the world- 10% in mali and 15% in chad- meaning that there are few people to advocate for women's rights on a federal level. women in mali have a life expectancy of forty-eight years, which is among the lowest in the world [and just slightly lower than afghanistan which, as we mentioned earlier, is a war zone]. in mali, 71% of women are married before the age of eighteen, many of those before the age of fifteen. additionally, mali still practices widespread female genital mutilation, with over 90% of women having undergone some form of the procedure. what's worse is that that number is unchanged in the last twenty years, so there has been no improvement whatsoever.

in 2014, both the world economic forum and the social institutions gender index selected yemen as the worst place for women. women there are entirely under the control of their husbands, fathers or brothers, unable to travel or even leave the house without their express consent. half of women are married before they turn eighteen and almost fifteen percent before they turn fifteen. while the literacy rate for men is relatively high [83%], only about half of women are literate. 26% of women are employed, compared to 74% of men, but the vast majority of women work as agricultural labourers, where their employment is determined on a day-to-day basis and where they have no form of job security or recourse against unfair employers. nor do women have any voice in government: only one out of 301 members of parliament is a woman.

common types of female genital mutilation
among g-20 countries, the one that fares the worst when it comes to women's rights is india. this is a somewhat contentious evaluation, because india is an extremely diverse country by any standard and it's therefore difficult to generalize about the nation as a whole. in 2012, nearly a quarter of a million crimes against women were reported, which is high even given the large population. the capital of delhi is viewed as especially dangerous. the government's own numbers report a rape rate of more than 25%, which has caused numerous countries to issue warnings to women not to travel alone there. in fact, india topped a list by a women's travel site of the worst places for women to travel alone. that said, india still fares well better in terms of women's rights than the neighbouring countries of nepal, afghanistan and pakistan. while it might seem horrifically depressing that one in four women report being raped and nearly 70% report being victims of domestic violence, it's worth noting that india has made greater efforts in the last ten to fifteen years to address gender violence. before 2005, it was difficult for a woman to even file charges of domestic abuse, so the increasing rate there is likely more indicative that women are reporting incidents more often.

in a previous world wide wednesdays, we talked about the horrific gender violence in papua new guinea, which makes it surprising that the nation doesn't fare worse in evaluations of women's rights and opportunities.

in order to write this up, i used a few different sources, including some different lists, with different criteria, for evaluating the places where women are at the greatest risk. there's a more subjective one here [the only one to even mention papua new guinea and that only in passing]. a widely cited one using information from the world economic forum is here. this one draws information from a number of sources to come up with its list. other sources have already been linked within the post.

you'll note that a couple of those links also lead to lists of where women have it the best: belgium, france, spain and slovenia all rank very highly.

as you can see, there is much work to do and there is work to do even in those places where things are going well. the important thing is always to keep an eye on what needs to happen and where the need is most urgent. 

24 November 2015

mental health mondays :: a bill is due

don't look now, but america's infamously ineffective congress may be on the verge of getting something done. something important.

rep. tim murphy [a republican, no less and also the only psychiatrist in congress] has paired with texas democrat eddie bernice johnson [a psychiatric nurse] to put forward the helping families in mental health crisis act, meant to bring about serious reforms in the way that the american health industry deals with the mentally ill [h.r.-2646]. at the same time, senator bill cassidy [r-la] and senator chris murphy [d-ct] have introduced a bill in the senate [s. 1945] called the mental health reform act of 2015.

this is actually a second kick at the crazy can for murphy #1 and johnson, whose earlier bill was heavily criticised by those involved in the psychiatric care industry. this time around, reactions have been better. mental health america, a century-old not for profit group, has offered their cautious support for murphy-johnson, labelling it "a good start".  they've also offered qualified support for the senate bill, although they do note that there is an important difference between the two in terms of the funding to be allocated to helping those with mental health issues. [side note :: the murphy-cassidy bill is cosponsored by susan m. collins r-me, al franken d-mn, debbie stabenow d-mi and david vitter r-la]

another not for profit group, the treatment advocacy centre has given enthusiastic support to murphy-johnson, but does not appear to have taken an official position on murphy-cassidy.

this recap from the american psychiatric association gives a summary of the key points in murphy johnson. if you're feeling hardcore, you can read the complete text of the bill here. and then if you really want to dive in, you can also read the full text of the senate bill here. after all that, i have nothing else to offer you.

well, almost nothing.

one of the more controversial aspects of the bill is that it makes it easier for friends and family to force treatment on someone they believe is sick. that's a godsend for people who have lost someone they loved because they felt powerless to intervene, but for others it's a very scary pathway to stripping the mentally ill of their rights, especially since the bill is at best vague about the legal recourse of those who feel they've been unfairly sequestered.

the important thing is that there is actual legislation on the table. the even more important thing is that it's the first legislation that moves towards getting the mentally ill out of prison and into hospitals, making sure that there are enough hospitals available to care for patients and working on solutions that allow patients to remain in their communities or in their homes while receiving treatment.

we've talked about what other countries are doing to address the issue of mental health treatment and chances are this won't be the last time there's a post about these two pieces of legislation. but for now, it's a miracle: the least effective congress in history may be the one that pushes through meaningful, long overdue reform on a very complicated issue.

p.s. :: if you don't recognise the image at the top of this post, it is from the iconic schoolhouse rock "i'm just a bill" [watch it here!], which is still the source of 90% of my knowledge about the american legislative process. the rest comes from the simpsons treatment of the original

22 November 2015

the ouroboros of stupid :: adventures in fascism, feminism, and fallacies in the industrial music scene

i originally wrote this piece for heathen harvest as an editorial about a month ago in response to an article that was probably best left ignored, the sort of thing that is just so ignorant that you know you're just wasting everyone's time by even trying to argue. my logic was that people are debating donald trump's ideas seriously and the crazier he gets, the more popular he gets, so it might be dangerous to assume that some arguments are so ridiculous that they don't warrant any response, even if the arguments are about a music scene that almost no one ever thinks or cares about. 

after a week or two, i contacted my editor at hh and told him to scrap the article. i'd started feeling like the fire had burned itself out and there wasn't much point in trying to poke the embers. furthermore, since i was taking an irascible tone with two different groups, i felt like i was potentially provoking a fight with a lot of people and possibly creating more of the same crap i say i'm sick of dealing with. [i want to make it clear that it was my choice to pull the article, not heathen harvest's.] 

having thought about it for a couple of weeks longer and seen the tenor of public debate fall a couple of weeks lower, i've changed my mind again. yes, this is an unnecessary response to a poorly written article. the article appeared on a marginal web site and now i'm using an even more marginal web site [mine] to answer it. both articles are written about music for which "obscure" is arguably too generous a definition. yes, its audience is deeply passionate and the internet has made it possible to think that we constitute a larger group than we actually do. but this is really one unknown fan of electronic music throwing mud at another. i can accept that. 

what i no longer accept, and what made me decide to go ahead and publish this, is the idea that ignoring something makes it go away. giving it attention may seem to make it more important than it actually is, but part of being passionate about these weird genres of music is caring about the fact that i constantly hear these arguments and the most common responses to them and get angry. angry has no place in my relationship with music. these sorts of people are fucking up one of the few respites i have in my wretched, ultimately meaningless life. 

i'm not the only one who's frustrated by what she sees, but i am one who has a blog and difficulty holding her tongue [or fingers].

make of it what you will. [also, if you have no idea what i'm talking about, don't worry. it will never, ever have an impact on your life, i promise.]

20 November 2015

making faces :: chanel's k.i.s.s. for fall

i must be honest: i've been a little disenchanted with chanel for the last couple of years. it's not that what they've been doing is bad, exactly, but that so much of it [and there has been so much] has seemed forgettable or- gasp- trendy. their relaunch of their rouge coco line this year might have been due, but the colours they included seemed like slightly washed out versions of the juicy, bold hues we've been seeing from everyone for at least a year and a half now. same goes for their relaunch late last year of their rouge allure glosses. they got rid of the best and most unique lip gloss shades on the market [no qualifier!] and replaced them with ones that looked a lot like things we've from dior or even mac. note: that doesn't make them bad colours- far from it. but chanel is one of the priciest brands around, so if i'm looking at their products and thinking "this looks a lot like something i can get for much less from another brand", it's not a good sign.

this autumn, though, chanel did something that caught my attention. while every other company was doing the usual job of creating fancy fantasies to sell their seasonal wares, chanel chose one that was completely unexpected: the theme of their autumn collection was "autumn". the fact that that seems weird is evidence of what a ballsy decision that was, but eventually the philosophy of "keep it simple, stupid" was bound to make its way through to the cosmetic counter.

the collection, "les automnales", is an earthy, rustic take on the season, with each piece having a natural inspiration behind it [or at least linked to it in the marketing campaign]. it's a clever angle, because so many people love autumn for its warm colours, the last wildflowers of the season, going for walks in the woods and seeing the forest floor as it prepares for sleep, that a collection of makeup inspired by those things practically sells itself. [its being chanel takes care of the rest.]

a case for why you should avoid my family altogether

old family reunion photo
i've recently succumbed to the glitzy allure of an account on ancestry.com, which is kind of like crack, if crack was made up of little green leaves and ended up giving carpal tunnel syndrome from using it all the time. come to think of it, crack would have a better reputation if it did that, although i have a feeling that dropping it after a month or two of free access is likely to require some serious detox.

i feel kind of bad, because i took some pride in the fact that i had found out so much about my family without ever spending a nickel to do so, and now i've given in to the most commercial vehicle for peddling your dead ancestors on the planet. that feeling is somewhat mollified by the fact that i've accomplished in less than a week about six times what i was able to accomplish on my own and have found out that, contrary to what i previously believed, i have some pretty illustrious, albeit very distant, progenitors. i also have some pretty questionable ones, but that's a story for another time.

as dazzled as i am by how far back i've been able to dig [once you've located a relative who was nobility of any sort, you've hit genealogical paydirt, by the way], my favourite part of this exercise is some of the weird stories i've been able to find about the strange things these people actually did with their lives, like defeating a french invasion with an unholy army.

ok, maybe it wasn't exactly an unholy army, but it does make me realise that it's a minor miracle that anyone in my family turned out even marginally sane, because it's clear that we didn't get off to a great start.

welcome to our humble home
the story involves a fairly distant relative by the name of john earle. he was born in poole, dorset, england around 1678, but emigrated at a young age to the english colony of newfoundland. the colony was still a pretty wild place, and a man who came from the commoner class could establish himself as a landowner there pretty much by picking a place he liked and constructing something on it. hence, large parts of my family are comprised of poor people from the southwest of england who figured that living in the colony sounded pretty swell when compared to living in poverty in the home country. of course, no one told them about the winters, or that it was comparatively expensive to get stuff there, because there were about eight people in any given area and they hadn't quite figured out the whole farming thing because newfoundland is known to get snowfall as late as may.

nonetheless, young john was determined and plunked himself down on a cute little island [later] named little bell island with his new wife some time in the mid-90s. 1690s, that is. john wasn't entirely thrilled with his new home: there are historical records about how he complained about the prices of staples there. most people are not noted in history books for their whinging. people put up with this, i'm guessing, because john earle had repelled the french navy at the age of eighteen, which is the sort of thing that earns you the right to bitch.

in 1696-7, the french, eager to extend their empire from the adjacent province [colony] of quebec [new france] and to get their paws on newfoundland's considerable booty [meaning the lucrative fishing and fur resources], staged an assault on the island with two barges full of soldiers. two boats might not sound like a lot, but when you consider that the area they were invading was inhabited solely by poor englishmen trying not to starve to death in winter or die of the plague, it's clear that two boats would have been more than enough.

john apparently liked his new home enough to fight for it, but he didn't have the means to push back two boats full of professional soldiers. in fact, he and his wife had the tiny island all to themselves, which was great when they wanted to get crazy drunk and sing traditional songs into the wee hours, but not so great when it came to doing battle. john did have a cannon, which was clearly useful and some imagination.

come be our friend, forever...
when the french arrived [no, i don't know who told him they were coming, but let's just leave that aside for now], the were fired on by the cannon, which struck and sank one of the boats before it could inflict any damage. when the survivors and those in the accompanying boat looked up, they were faced with john's disturbing creation: an army of scarecrows standing on the crest of a hill, ready to do battle.

at that point, historical sources say that the french were fooled into thinking that, contrary to their pre-invasion intelligence, the british had forces there to defend the area and they quickly headed back where they came from. i would like to put forth, however, that it's equally likely that the french saw a gang of scarecrows staring out at them with their dead eyes and firing a cannon and decided that whatever the fuck lived on that island was something they wanted nothing to do with. that seems like a completely reasonable decision to me.

the rest of newfoundland didn't fare so well: the french used another approach and completely leveled the city of st. john's in 1697, killing everyone and burning the place to the ground, but continuing to avoid the nutjob with his island of scarecrows. eventually, the english sent their soldiers over and rebuilt the fort around which st. john's had formed, since there wasn't anything left to defend. john lived a long life on little bell island and, as far as i can tell, his family remained the only inhabitants there until after his death around 1750. both his sons moved to the mainland, probably to get away from the scarecrows.

wait, come back! i only want to hug you and will totally not suck your soul through your eyeballs!

17 November 2015

mental health 'mondays' :: they sell sanctuary

one of the things that has been running through my head since friday has been just how like a cult isis is. although it lacks the monomaniacal leadership that one typically associates with apocalyptic cults, it does prey on the vulnerable and the young, seducing them to a violent ideology wherein they will be rewarded for their earthly sacrifices with vip treatment in the afterlife. in the age of the internet, where many to many communication has become the norm, the power of the idea requires no leader to draw others. it sits alone, appearing to need no central leader, although, of course, there are leaders central to its perpetual recruitment drive.

cults tend to involve various sorts of mental disorders, although it is a mistake to conflate the two. leaders tend to suffer from narcissistic personalities, their need for adoration and total subjugation fulfilled by dismantling the egos of those who follow them. they may also show strong antisocial tendencies, unable to consider the feelings of others on the same level as their own. some certainly experience intense bouts of paranoia- itself symptomatic of a number of disorders. does that mean that all cult leaders are clinically insane? no, but it means that their personalities are extremely twisted through having found some unhealthy ways to deal with disordered thinking. as a result, you could hardly pick a worse model to deal with the young, still working to form ideas about the world, and the vulnerable, feeling lost in the world.

but what about the people who join cults? surely, there has to be something wrong with them, right? yes and no. overwhelmingly, the majority of cult members do not exhibit classical signs of any mental disorders. however, about one-third show signs of depression. that's far from a majority, but it's still a significantly higher rate than occurs in the general population. so, yes, people are drawn to cults when they feel unworthy themselves, or hopeless about their opportunities. but does that mean that we have no way of predicting who is likely to fall victim to the manipulation of a cult, or a group like isis?

actually, there are ways of identifying those who are "at risk" and they are pretty much exactly what you'd think they are. one of the things that psychologists like to point out is that their profession have traditionally placed too much emphasis on personality and not enough on environment. in fact, we now understand that environment is crucially important and the source of lots of contributing factors that can be "breaking points" for otherwise healthy people. things like sudden moves to another city or country, or the breakup of a relationship, things that strip away our sense of security that the most primal parts of our brain associates with survival. the trials of transitioning from child to adult are full of these moments, often amplified in our brains because of our relative inexperience. faced with the fear of having to handle things on our own, it is easier for us to opt for a situation that allows us to exist in a perpetual childhood, where expectations and rules are clear.

the problem right now, of course, is that a lot of the people susceptible to the sort of programming that cults and isis offer is that they're in countries like iraq and syria, which are about the worst possible environments you can imagine for emotional fragility. in the late seventies, jim jones managed to convince nearly a thousand people to follow him into the jungle of guyana from the relative comfort of the united states. imagine what he could have convinced them to do had he been in a country in the midst of a civil war, where bombs were falling and people were dying every day.

in fact, isis recruitment techniques are extremely similar to those of other cults: they offer a sense of community, and a community that understands the target's sense of isolation. but they also work to increase that sense of isolation, so that the target feels that their only true friends are found within the movement. here's an example of the techniques as used on an otherwise healthy young american woman. the isolation increases dependence on the group, but it also allows the group to present a more appealing version of itself. everything comes down to control: the group's insistence on establishing and maintaining, but also [to borrow from michel foucault] the willingness of the target to relinquish it, or to trade it for a sense of order and purpose.

the purpose of lavishing attention on the target is not merely to make them feel flattered and loved, but also to bombard them with so much information and verbal affection that their brain can't cope with it. they become discombobulated and the effect is an almost like hypnosis. afloat on a sea of internet love, they become extremely susceptible to what their loving friends tell them, including some things that they simply wouldn't accept in their normal state. this is a way of breaking down the ego, pulling apart the personality in a way that seems pleasing.

what's truly scary is that, for those who do escape the clutches of a cult, it seems nigh on impossible to undo what's been done to them. some have argued that cult behaviour introduces an entirely new sort of psychological disorder to the world, somewhat similar to posttraumatic stress disorder, but applied with the precision of surgery. that's a terrifying thought: people who go through the tortuous and sometimes dangerous process of escaping a cult may do so only to find out that their brains are permanently compromised.

so what's the solution, then?

well, for those people who are the most vulnerable- those living in war-torn areas, desperate to make some sort of sense of what's happening to them and find some type of safety and security- part of the solution is to get them out of danger, as many of them as possible, as fast as possible. you're worried about the spread of isis? you should be supporting anyone who wants to get refugees out of war zones and into stable situations.

other than that, protecting others from indoctrination shouldn't require a lot of deviation from things that make it easier to go through life: communicate openly and honestly; fight the dangers of reductionist thinking by taking the time to learn and discuss the complexity of situations; encourage everyone to think for themselves and to question what appears to be; reach out to people when you fear they're becoming isolated or depressed, if only to let them know that you're willing to listen and help if you can.

you can impose whatever legal or military barriers you want and that will make things more difficult [which can be a good thing], but it also feeds the us versus them dialectic that cults use to "prove" their paranoia and convince recruits to stay within the fold. the real way to stop a cult- any cult- is to cut off their supply of new members, because that is their oxygen.  

15 November 2015

making faces :: get a mauve on

i. just. can't.
i have a strict "no mustache" policy in our household to which there are no exceptions, even for an excellent cause like movember. although the actual movement to grow mustaches as a way of raising funds and promoting awareness for prostate cancer started in the u.k., we in canada have become the kings of movember, which is why bite beauty has decided to get in the game and help some of us ladies to get behind the cause, even those of us who can't get with the mustache game.

this month only [which is half over and for that i apologize], bite is offering a new shade of lipstick in canada called "mauvember", the proceeds from which are being donated to the cause. i need to preface this by saying that the shade sold out almost immediately from sephora's website, but i've heard from multiple sources that there are still plenty to be had in stores.

"mauvember" is made in bite's luminous creme formula, what i refer to as their standard, which is a very creamy, full-coverage lipstick with a satin finish. the wear time for these is average on me- about three hours if my lips are in good shape, closer to two if they're not- but the real joy is in the way these feel on the lips. they are one of the only things i can stand to wear when winter air has my pout peeling and painful, one of the only things outside my beloved nuxe rêve de miel lip balm that leaves them feeling better than having nothing at all on there. So considering the cold weather that's descending fast [unless you're in the southern hemisphere, in which case, sure, feel a little smug] and the money goes to a great cause, that's almost reason enough to buy the lipstick on its own.

but wait, it gets better!

the colour itself is well-named: it's a true mauve, which is a purple-tinged pink shade [often with a hint of grey-brown]. i'm not making that shit up. that's what mauve is supposed to be, not that most people can tell anymore, because "mauve" is one of those terms like "plum" that's used to describe almost anything by people too lazy to look up proper colour names online or lacking the visual acuity to judge. so if you're adjudicating a case of a lipstick being mauve, start with this one, because it's an excellent example.

14 November 2015

fluctuat nec mergitur

this has not been a good couple of weeks. yesterday, while terrorists prepared to attack the city of paris, people in southern lebanon were grieving their dead after bombings there injured more than two hundred in a shia-dominated suburb of beirut. the attack was condemned as "satanic" by hezbollah, the shi'ite political group who have been fighting isis and who are themselves designated a terror organisation by western powers. this just two weeks after a suspicious crash of a russian airliner in egypt killed over two hundred people there.

i already expressed my reaction to a similar attack in the french capital less than a year ago and i stand by those thoughts. but i still feel the need to say something here, because the horrific violence of the past two weeks just leaves me aching. i've been in paris. i've walked around the streets not far from the restaurant and concert venue that were attacked yesterday. i remember seeing the modern curve of the stade de france against the morning sky from the window of a taxi, one of my very first impressions of the city. i took the photo above- a statue of charlemagne- while i was there.

growing up in halifax, i always had lebanese friends, because there is a substantial community there, many who fled to escape the horrors of the civil war. years ago, i read about the resurgence of beirut since the war and was excited that i might be able to visit, before violence once again engulfed it.

two cities who have shown such incredible resilience over centuries, both targeted by zealots drunk on the teachings of an apocalyptic death cult- jim jones in arabic.

it's always been remarkable to me that, despite the language difference, there are more visitors to this blog from france than any country in the world save the united states and canada. in fact, there are weeks when visitors from france outnumber those of my home country.

a friend of mine from france told me the motto of the city of paris yesterday, which is also the title of this post: "tossed but not sunk". the city may be buffeted by waves- of violence, of fear, of anger- but it will not be dragged under. so when people say "we are all paris", it doesn't simply mean that we identify with the parisians. it means that we will not allow those waves to sink us. we will stand strong in the face of the storm. the waves will break and recede but we will not. we are not paris simply because we sympathize with the people there, but because we must be.

stay safe and stay strong. 

12 November 2015

unhappiness in the land of happy days

i may be getting addicted to the process of republican debates. tuesday saw them in milwaukee and after last month's debacle on cnbc [i didn't write it up? god, i'm slipping], the focus was largely on fox business channel even more than on the candidates. however, it took about five minutes to determine that fox had come prepared, which means that we all got to focus on [mocking] the candidates again.

you'd assume that, as a progressive, i would want a very weak candidate to emerge, but in fact i'd prefer to have someone with a solid grasp of policy [or at least english]. i don't think that's what republicans want, though and, no word of a lie, that saddens me. i was shocked at how poorly john huntsman fared last time, which goes to show you that i just don't see in their candidates the way they do. but that's part of what makes it fun!

tuesday's fight for the right took us to milwaukee, home of the 1985 and 2015 world series champions and the seventies television show happy days, of which i have never seen a full episode, because even as a small child, i found it intolerable. those are actually the only two things i know about milwaukee. apparently, i know less about milwaukee than i thought. kansas city won the world series this year, as they did in 1985. i know milwaukee is in wisconsin and their baseball team is the brewers. i also know that it's pretty far from kansas, believe it or not.

the stages had been rearranged a little, with chris christie and mike huckabee pushed off the main and lindsey graham and george pataki pushed off entirely because of their low poll numbers. for crying out loud, just let them talk. let everyone talk. do a  series of debates over a few nights if you have to, with rotating candidates. yes, it would be expensive, but the koch brothers, the walmart heirs, sheldon adelson and all those other billionaires you have backing you have a lot of money. get some of the candidates' super-pacs to throw some cash in. the "undercard" debates help nothing.

the "awkward-off" competition
the kids' table debate ::

first things first: no lindsey graham was a huge mistake. he's been by far the most interesting part of the previous two debates and i was truly looking forward to him chugging out of a flask mid-stream, because who would stop him?

chris christie :: clearly did not belong as part of the opening act. focused the entire time on hillary clinton rather than attacking others [we'll get to that shortly] and seemed a bigger person [stop laughing] than his cohorts. that said, he's received positive reviews for all his debate performances [including from me] and it's done nothing for him.

mike huckabee :: how screwed up is life when mike huckabee seems like the moderate in the room? didn't do himself any harm, didn't do himself any good, which means he's unlikely to be going anywhere but down. your moment was 2012, buddy and you blew it.

bobby jindal :: jesus h. christ man, did chris christie bang your wife? you spent more time trying to start a fight with him than you did discussing your own policies. you did find time to brag about denying food stamps to poor people, which was almost, but not quite as good as last time when you bragged about closing charity hospitals. you are a nasty, angry man, even in this crowd.

rick santorum :: maybe not at the level of christie, but arguably had the high point of the night when, after christie and jindal scrapped a little about the importance of being a "true" conservative versus winning in a normally blue state. come and get it, just like you almost did four years ago. started hollering at one point, which was a bit scary, but potentially effective. that said, there's been a subtle shift in the desires of the electorate since 2012, when his brand of social conservatism was more popular. this time, the emphasis seems to be on weird. i believe you can do this, rick.


the big show ::

jeb bush :: a huge improvement on his previous debate performances, but that's really not saying much. his comments on immigration were possibly the high point of his entire campaign thus far. he desperately needed a strong performance and he delivered... somewhat. in a campaign where the electorate seem to hate political insiders, he somehow seems the most insider-y, despite never having held office in washington. thanks, family. i do think that the democrats are more concerned about him than they let on, but he's struggling so much to make an impression that he needs a minor miracle to revive his moribund run. of course, we're approaching the season of miracles...

mathematician john nash believed in a conspiracy of men with red ties
ben carson :: his performance alternated between a nearly catatonic state and feverish delirium. i'm not exaggerating: there were times when his wording was so convoluted that i doubt even he remembered what he started off trying to say. because he was given more speaking time in this round, his inability to make rational arguments was more exposed, however, a room full of undecided primary voters overwhelmingly chose him as the winner of the debate. i'm beginning to think that his appeal is that he sounds relaxing [which he absolutely does] and his characteristic mumbling diction means that the audience simply here's some key words and phrases that they like. damned if i can understand his appeal, but whatever he's doing, it's working.

ted cruz :: he committed what should have been a rick perry-level screw up when he faltered in naming the five departments he would shut down, but he dealt with it so much better, just pushing the crazy plow forward through the brush. take that instant out of the reckoning and i'd almost say cruz ran away with the debate. his performance was slick, but still human. challenged by an incredulous host when he said that he would allow even the bank of america to fail in the event of another economic meltdown, he dug in his cowboy heels. the idea that the largest bank in the country could just be allowed to collapse with no safety net is more than a little crazy, but cruz' response made him look principled and the host look argumentative. and his numbers tell an interesting story: his support has been increasing slowly and steadily, based on a foundation of increasingly strong debate performances and refusing to criticize even the craziest things that his opponents say, all while biding his time. machine gun bacon for everyone!

rubio's so cute even the donald can't resist that tight butt
carly fiorina :: this woman lies better than i can tell the truth. as with last time, a solid, professional performance based on a foundation of pure bullshit. elegantly blew off the toughest question of the entire night- how she would respond to the accusation that the economy has been better when democrats have been in the white house- by not even attempting to answer it and was not pushed by the moderators. her most memorable moment, however, was being shushed by donald trump, to a solid round of boos. in a post-match interview, she answered a question of whether she perceived his admonishment as sexist by saying that everyone was interrupting, but she was the only one he called out for doing so, and she'd just let other people make up their minds. her responses to his gender-baiting are the stuff genius. notably, when cnn talked to their audience of republican voters, she was the only candidate who'd managed to win someone over.

john kasich :: had the performance that jeb bush needed to have. he was loaded for bear and repeated his assertion from the last debate that the big-sounding plans his opponents' have to deal with immigration are "silly". also achieved something that his opponents have struggled to do thus far [with the exception of carly fiorina]: making donald trump look bad. trump's petulant comeback that he was rich enough that he didn't need to listen to kasich got a visceral reaction from the audience, who thus far have let the whole billionaire thing slide because he did a good act of being "one of the people". the danger for kasich is that those floating high on the dreams of trump's wall or carson's... whatever will find his "the emperor has no clothes" routine to be a major downer.

rand paul :: this was the debate where he finally seemed to come to life, emphasizing the differences between him and the other candidates on foreign policy and military interventionism. his father got booed for those sort of statements four years ago, but rand got a muffled ripple of applause. made all his opponents look foolish because he seemed to be the only one on stage who knew that china wasn't a signatory to the trans-pacific partnership. i doubt anyone in the audience knew china wasn't part of the tpp, but they'll mind that their candidates didn't know it. his good showing might not be enough to bring back the excitement he generated last year, but it could be enough to keep him from switching places with chris christie at the next debate [december 15, hosted by cnn].

that joke isn't funny anymore? 
marco rubio :: not bad, but his worst performance to date. his most memorable moment was actually what he didn't say, which was anything about immigration. he continues to be able to dodge questions on a subject where he is both vulnerable, as the sole candidate to have supported the dream act, and a potentially huge asset in a general election. throughout the debate, he seemed a little tired, a little too robotic, bringing back memories of the truly unfortunate "water bottle" reply to the state of the union address. he fumbled through an answer about the increasingly sticky problem of his personal finances without sounding convincing. cruz, who seems to know that rubio is going to be the opponent he'll have to best in the long run, took some effective shots at him regarding immigration, while never mentioning him by name, thus robbing him or saving him from having to respond. still a long-term threat and the candidate the democrats least want to face.

donald trump :: the magic is fading fast. he was booed multiple times for taking mean-spirited shots at the other candidates and, with the greater emphasis on issues, seemed more out of his depth than ever. other than the booing, the response that has gotten the most post-debate coverage is his comparison of his immigrant deportation program to that of dwight eisenhower in the 1950s. the media he's criticized so harshly have been only too happy to point out that the program was called "operation wetback" and is viewed in retrospect as a racist embarrassment. a stilted, unfunny performance on saturday night live [possibly the fault of the writers as much as the donald] coupled with a weak performance here may well herald the end of the republican trump experiment, as he continues to lose ground to the limp but apparently likable dr. carson. he's far enough ahead, particularly in new hampshire, that i can't see him backing out for a while, but it's going to happen. now about that potential third-party challenge.

can we just take a minute to admire the sumptuous venue?
overall, enough people were solid that it's hard to say if tuesday's debate will create a lot of movement with the republican primary voters [don't forget that in these early stages, checking the polls in the early primary states of iowa, new hampshire and south carolina is more important than looking at national ones]. the number of undecided or "soft" supporters of any candidate is massive, likely reflecting the befuddlement of voters trying to evaluate more than a dozen suitors. with relatively few people truly committed, differences between the candidates can seem a lot greater than they actually are: in a room with ten voters where four support me, if i'm able to win over just three people, my support goes from forty to seventy percent. so the bottom line is that there is a lot of room for movement. even a slight edge in on the ground effort could be enough to carry a candidate over the line.

this week's winners [most likely to see an increase in support] :: cruz, paul, bush, possibly christie and santorum [assuming enough people saw the early debate]

this week's stalwarts [most likely to hold their ground] :: carson, rubio, fiorina, kasich

this week's losers [most likely to see a drop in support] :: jindal, huckabee

[please note that almost all my predictions last time were wrong before taking this too seriously.]

until next time...

11 November 2015

world wide wednesdays :: remember


i was planning a new world wide wednesdays this week, but given that it's remembrance day, i thought it would be appropriate to bring back this one from last year. i haven't changed my opinion one bit: i believe world war i was the defining event of the twentieth century and it harms us all that we forget its lessons. and sadly, yes, i do believe that those lessons have been largely forgotten, things like the importance of caring for veterans, the injustice of the moneyed classes using the poor as almost literal cannon fodder, the fact that conflicts are rarely black and white, but have a lot of room for interpretation and can get pretty hysterical very quickly. i could go on, but i think my point is made. here's hoping this year brings something better.

*

i thought i'd indulge in a bit of a departure this week, in remembrance of what i firmly believe is the defining event of the twentieth century: world war i. it's certainly arguable, but i've thought about it a lot and i'm pretty firm in my opinion. because the second world war was better documented and made a better story [good versus evil], it has overshadowed its predecessor and this has done us all a great disservice. the
"great war" as it was known [or, more optimistically "the war to end all wars"] is responsible for a staggering amount that we now take for granted. so today's world wide wednesday will take a look at some of those.



  • rosie the riveter and her world war ii colleagues might get all the glory, but it was in world war i that women first moved into the workforce to do the work of men sent off to the front. their work greatly advanced the cause of women's rights and the suffrage movement achieved their aim of having the franchise [i.e., the right to vote] extended to women throughout europe and north america as a result. [side note :: in canada, women's suffrage was granted by conservative prime minister robert borden in 1917-18 specifically because of the war. desperate to gain support for his policy of conscription, borden extended voting rights to women who were in service, war widows and female relatives of men serving in the war. he also courted members of the opposition liberal party to join him as part of a unionist government, because, with the war and all, he felt canada needn't concern itself with things like having multiple political parties. these strategies were successful and borden won re-election with a parliamentary majority in the election of 1917.]
  • wounded soldier with facial prosthetic
  • plastic surgery had been in its infancy, but was forced to advance at warp speed because of the war. one of the major causes of injury to soldiers in the field was shrapnel and many returned from service with faces almost literally destroyed. facial reconstruction was employed wherever possible, but not all could be treated this way. doctor sir henry gillies and american sculptor anna coleman watts ladd pioneered the development of prosthetics designed to cover the wounded portion of a soldier's face with a mask molded based on photos taken before the disfigurement and painted to match the skin as closely as possible.
  • most of the machines which we now think of as synonymous with armed conflict were introduced in the first world war. it was the first time that airplanes  had been used as an integral part of battles. machine guns were widely used for the first time. although better known for their work in the second world war, submarines, particularly german u-boats, were deployed to great effect in the first world war. but perhaps the most memorable advance in military hardware were the vehicles dubbed "landships". their construction was so secret that even the [women] workers building them were told that they were some form of mobile water reservoir. they were shipped out to the front using this same deception- that they were water storage tanks and not weapons. this is how the "landships" came to be nicknamed "tanks". [side note :: one of the weapons most associated with world war one is toxic gas. it was first used by france, but became increasingly widespread throughout the war. once the participating nations had seen its horrific effects, they agreed that such weapons were too awful to be used in any future conflicts. and no one ever used a chemical weapon again, ever, anywhere in the world.]
  • america chose to stay outside the fray for some time, however both sides desperately hoped to convince the new world powerhouse to step in on their side. the british were terrified that america's considerable jewish lobby would convince the government to enter the war on the german side, since many american jews were of german ancestry. so in order to influence them,  the british government agreed to support the jewish claim for a homeland in the middle east. at the same time, in order to get armies from the arabian peninsula to agree to rebel against the ottoman empire, the british promised arabian leaders that they would support their right to sovereignty in their own lands. and behind everyone's back, they were negotiating with their longtime rivals but world war allies france to carve up the middle east between them. [hey, weren't we just talking about that?] it's not like the middle east was all calm and love beforehand, but much of the modern conflict in that area can be traced to this duplicitous [or triplicitous?] british policy during world war one. [side note :: american president woodrow wilson was quite proud of the fact that he had not entered the war when he ran for re-election in  1916: his election slogan was "he kept us out of the war". three months after his inauguration in 1917, he sent america to war.]
  •  the great war introduced an ugly new word to the english lexicon: genocide. although not coined until 1943, the term was used originally to describe the organised mass killings of one and a half million armenians by the turkish government starting in 1915. this systematic slaughter may have inspired a later one. during the 1946 war crimes trials in nuremburg, the prosecution introduced a transcript of adolf hitler's "obersalzburg speech", given a week before his army invaded poland. one draft of the speech contained the line "who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the armenians?" prosecutors argued that this mention of the armenian genocide indicated that hitler was already planning a mass extermination of his own, with the expectation that it too would be forgotten. [side note :: to this day, the turkish government denies the claim that a genocide took place. in fact, only twenty-three countries worldwide acknowledge it.]
  • the family portrait with victoria, wilhelm, george and nicholas
  • although the end of world war ii is generally thought to have heralded the collapse of european empires, the process was well underway by the end of the first war. although germany didn't have much of an empire to speak of [they'd only had a country for a little more than forty years when the war broke out], their royal family was deposed and sent into exile. russia's royal family weren't so lucky. the ottoman and austro-hungarian empires were already in turmoil before the war [and indeed, their instability was one of the war's principal causes] and both collapsed in its wake. only the british monarch was able to survive his continental cousins. and i do mean cousins. with all this talk about different nations, it can be easy to forget that the rulers of britain, germany and russia were fairly closely related. they didn't call queen victoria the grandmother of europe for nothing. [side note :: some historians argue that the kaiser's refusal to back away from military commitments that put germany on a collision course with russia was due to the fact that he believed that king george v would never be able to back one of his cousins against the other and that britain would therefore remain neutral in any conflict. a rather disastrous gamble as it turned out.]

those are just a few of the effects of the great war that we continue to see today. but there are many more. i'm not even getting into a discussion of serbia, bosnia and the pan-slavic movement [although i probably will in a future www instalment]. my point is just to offer a few reminders of how the first world war continues to colour our perception of the world, even though we've forgotten much of the lessons it taught. when it comes to fighting, every state likes to invoke the metaphor of world war ii- that battle is an unpleasant necessity in the face of evil. but i believe we have much more to learn from the tumultuous world of the early twentieth century, when old powers were in the decline, new ones were on the ascendant and a lot of leaders out of touch with the people they supposedly lead bickered and stumbled their way into one of the bloodiest conflicts in history.

[parting note :: i feel like i should mention that searching for images of world war one-era prosthetic masks is the single most unpleasant thing i have ever had to do in writing this blog. if you ever want to really expose yourself to the horrors of war, i invite you to try your luck with google. if you'd like to sleep again, i suggest you take my word for it: you're happier not knowing.] 
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