30 March 2016

worldwide wednesdays :: no, it isn't

it's been a while! honestly, my time has been tight enough that posts that require more research, like www and paranoid theory, have had to be sacrificed. that makes me a little unhappy, because there are all sorts of awesome things about the world [and about paranoia] that could do with some explaining. but in the wake of the terror attacks in belgium and the media reaction to it, i couldn't help but return to the world of worldwide wednesdays in order to give some background that just isn't coming out through most other channels.

that's not to say that this information isn't out there. it's actually a little embarrassing how quickly i was able to assemble both primary sources and corroboration, but somehow, this is all getting glossed over, despite the fact that these attacks have been given nearly round the clock coverage on major news networks [*cough* cnn *cough*]. we hear about "poor communication" between belgian authorities and their counterparts elsewhere in europe [most notably france]. but unless you know why there has been poor communication, it doesn't help anyone understand how to fix the problem.

likewise, there is a tendency to cast aspersions on the immigrant-heavy neighbourhood of molenbeek, as if its concentration of muslims alone is what has made it fertile ground for isis recruitment. the truth, as it frequently is, is a little more complex and has roots that go back farther than the rise of islamic state.

so here are a few things to consider that are probably more germane to the problem than "immigrants are all potential terrorists":

belgium is kind of weird

for centuries, the territory we now call belgium was the was part of different empires. the romans, the franks [not the same as the french, although they had their turn], the merovingians, the carolingians, the holy roman empire [german and italian], the spanish, the austrian hapsburgs, the french [i guess i sort of mentioned them earlier], and the dutch [during a period where the "low countries" united to form one not-quite-so-small state]. and the boundaries of the country were pretty much always in play during that time, with different empires maintaining control over different parts of modern-day belgium.

as a self-governing entity, belgium isn't a lot older than canada, which is sort of an apt comparison. in fact, belgium is a little like what would happen if you ground up the prickliest political issues in canada and the united states and stuck them in a pressure cooker for a while. like canada, there is a permanent state of tension between the two major regions: dutch-speaking flanders and french-speaking wallonia. however, whereas the balance in canada is heavily tipped in one direction- 80% of the population is anglophone- belgium's population is about 59% dutch [which they call flemish] [actually, they call it vlaams, because "flemish" is an english word. -ed.] and 40% french [walloon]. just to make things more difficult, there is a predominantly german-speaking bit in the east of the country that accounts for about 1% of the population.

in the middle, you have brussels, the capital, which is its own thing. technically, it's nestled inside the dutch/ flemish half of the country, and at one point it was a predominantly dutch city, but now it is pretty much a french city. however, the french in brussels are generally not from wallonia, but from other countries. more than 30% of the population is made up of immigrants and even then, the two-thirds who were born in belgium have only been there for a generation or two. most of this is immigration from other european countries- france is by far the largest exporter of people, with morocco, italy and romania behind it.

plus, of course, brussels is an international capital. politicians, bureaucrats, diplomats and many others spend a good part of their time in brussels, but aren't actually residents. that's important, because it means that these people, with their higher-than-average salaries, tend to drive up housing and other costs, benefit from national infrastructures, but they don't pay any local or national taxes.

the dutch and french sections of belgium aren't especially at ease with each other [there is a significant wallon separatist movement], which means that local jurisdictions like to retain many powers for themselves, rather than ceding them to the federal government. as a result, there are many, many organizations tasked with supplying services to small areas. brussels, a city of 1.4 million people, is served by no fewer than six police forces. small wonder that there are communication problems.

and this sort of gross inefficiency is everywhere in belgium [and in fact has gotten worse, not better, over the last thirty or so years]. very little is centralized, but it's the central government that is tasked with dealing with other national governments. the national government itself is fractured, with parties having to form coalitions in order to maintain power, coalitions that require the support of parties loyal to their particular area and who can impede any efforts to consolidate services or resources.

belgium can't afford to be itself

as you can imagine, that kind of duplication is ruinously expensive. the population of the entire country is only 11 million, but that doesn't include the aforementioned political nomads, who command some of the highest salaries. added to that, wallonia was a manufacturing powerhouse, a shining star of the industrial revolution. however, a steep decline in the industrial sector and the loss of control over lucrative minerals in the congo have devastated the economy, leaving the region significantly worse off than its northern partner. money is needed to pay for services in three official languages [yes, even the tiny german community enjoys official status], dozens of police forces, hundreds of local inspectors, overseers, planners and contractors and belgium isn't collecting nearly enough in taxes to do so.

sadly, the economic chasm that exists between the french and dutch halves of the country is an aggravating factor in pre-existing tensions, and leads people to be less interested in combined services, less the other come to dominate.

another effect of the fragile economic situation and the overlapping services is that few of those provincial or municipal employees are paid very well, or trained very well. police are often little more than security guards, because the salary just can't attract more qualified people. for the salary they're earning, there is little incentive for police to risk their bodies and their lives in high crime areas, which leaves criminals with an impunity towards the law.

likewise, low salaries and extremely localised politics invites corruption, which has been a huge concern at every level of government in the country.

although violent crimes tend to get more attention, one of the most insidious criminal enterprises in molenbeek is the selling of illegal weapons. ak-47s, like the ones used in the charlie hebdo murders, are easily obtained on the streets of molenbeek.

brussels is a hole

donald trump got upbraided for referring to brussels as a "hellhole", and rightly so, but the second part of that word isn't entirely wrong. brussels is one of the few european capitals to have suffered a "doughnut effect" in recent years. this is a well known phenomena in north america: middle class and wealthy people flee the city for the suburbs and take their money with them. what's left is a hole in the middle, neglected and impoverished. in european cities like london and paris, it's central neighbourhoods that command the highest prices, but brussels has tumbled into the territory of 70s and early 80s new york. infrastructure money has become increasingly focused on moving middle class workers from the flemish suburbs to the city and the centre has largely collapsed: the hole in the doughnut.

many immigrants are not immigrants

as we touched on earlier, much of the population of brussels has been in belgium for only a couple of generations. that's because, when industry was flying, up until the 70s, belgium was desperate to find workers and practically begged people to move from the colonies of north and central africa. those people formed communities in the areas where they ended up- including the much-maligned molenbeek- and are still perceived by many white belgians as "others". in fact, the current generation is as belgian as anyone else in this somewhat confused country.

unfortunately, many of their communities were the hardest hit with the economic decline, which means that many of these visible minority belgians have grown up facing increasing poverty, hopelessness and, just to top things off, suspicion and sometimes aggression from their countrymen. oh, and that gap between the rich in brussels and the poor? it's increased considerably in recent years and is among the worst in western europe. so add to that stress the ability to see white, dutch-speaking citizens of your city doing much better than you, living in places that are well-tended and well-serviced, while you wait for the truck-sized potholes in your street to be fixed and fear walking down dark streets because you know damn well the police won't help you.

is that an excuse for terrorist behaviour? of course not. but it is a road map to desperation, and groups like isis feed on desperation like vampires on blood. their recruitment techniques are like psychological roadmaps designed to bring vulnerable people into the fold. think of isis in this case as clever entrepreneurs, setting up a starbucks on the ground floor of a busy office building.

well all that sounds depressing, doesn't it?

absolutely. if it were a matter of a federal security force weeding out a few dangerous religious leaders, the task would be relatively easy. but there are so many complications that it's hard to know where to start. but starting is not optional.

one city, one police force. international pressure combined with domestic pressure should help the push to scrap the six competing police forces in brussels and replace them with one, which would in itself help ensure that important information is more accessible. and that people aren't just selling high calibre weapons on the streets.

reform education. since schooling is largely the purview of the desperately underfunded city government, many of molenbeek's residents don't receive adequate education to allow them to compete with people from wealthier areas and often don't develop strong language skills in french, flemish or german.

not the problem
put the kids to work. governments at all levels need to address the problem of unemployment, in particular youth unemployment. youth unemployment is high in belgium anyway, but it's out of control with the youth of molenbeek. the lack of education, the existing urban poverty, the lack of resources to help those who want to escape and the tensions between whites and non-whites, who can perceive themselves as being in competition with the 'other', create a system where areas like molenbeek are often just recycling the poor back where they came from. unless someone like isis comes along.

indirectly, improving the employment situation would also encourage more people to stay longer in one area. conditions being what they are, people tend to drift in and out of the area, and that makes it difficult to track who is where. stability breeds security.

speak the language. the police force and any other officials who deal with the muslim community need to find people who can speak arabic. such people have been difficult to acquire, but they are crucial to building bridges with the muslim community. of the 114 imams in brussels [at last count], eight speak one of the country's official languages. while it's always desirable to have community leaders who can speak to those inside, that's a longer-term solution. in the short term, the mountain needs to move to mohammed. [side note :: this process has been started, so there is some good news.] 

that's just a brief [seriously, it's brief] account of what i've managed to turn up on this issue. and if i can find this out, there is no reason i should have to hear any paid journalist tell me that there are just problems in belgium but stop short of being able to provide any details. there is no reason why i should have to listen to anyone saying that the issue in molenbeek is with recent immigrants, or particular mosques or anything of the sort because, as you've likely gleaned from the title of this post, no it isn't. this is a problem that has arisen from the peculiar confluence of circumstances in belgium. that's not to say that it can't happen in other places [some have mentioned bosnia as an area of particular concern], but surface-level, reactionary answers make the problem worse, because they point us in the wrong direction when we look for solutions.

here's a partial list of sources i used to write this, in no particular order ::

28 March 2016

move over

a little earlier today, dom sent me this video with an unhappy emoticon and a lot of swearing.

if you're judging us for using emoticons and swearing to express a reaction to that news story, i would suggest:

a. that you run away from this blog as fast as your fingers will carry you, because it's roughly indicative of the level of sensitivity i display at all times.

b. that you understand that we've had to develop a sort of shorthand for dealing with the eruption of thoughts and feelings that these things evoke, because if we didn't, we'd spend the entire day talking of nothing else.

clearly, the spectacle of anyone in north america telling immigrants to "go back where they came from" is ridiculous and hypocritical. even the most "canadian" white person likely can't go back more than two or three generations without losing at least part of their "canadian-ness" and even those who can point to a few genetic strands that have been bound to canadian soil for hundreds of years have to admit that their culture didn't exactly evolve here. [like a lot of canadians, i fall into both categories, with some relatively recent arrivals and others who were some of the first ones desperate enough to set up shop when the british government declared the continent open for business.]

so a caucasian canadian telling someone to "go back where they came from" is sort of like a guy who shows up for dinner an hour late chewing out the guy who arrives ten minutes later. [really, it's more like the guy who shows up to dinner an hour late, murders the host, chews out the guy who gets there ten minutes later then tells him that he has to make dinner and clean up the murder scene.]

but the fact is, i don't consider it a more intelligent statement coming from europeans, even though they can at least claim that the geographical region has been in their possession a lot longer. [and many of them do, with increasing vehemence.] first of all, if people like those in the video above, think it's important that cultures stay unified and that immigration corrupts culture, i hope they've got some spare bedrooms, because there's about 300 million of us who'll be home for the holidays. but that's not the only issue either, because "europe" isn't a unified culture by any stretch of the imagination. not even the most fervent pro-e.c. fanatic would utter such a thing out loud.

so it's not like we new worlders can just go anywhere in europe. ask people in western europe how they feel about folks from from the former eastern bloc countries moving in and you'll find out exactly how far pan-european sentiment gets you. we're supposed to go to the place where we have the greatest cultural ties. which puts us in the tricky position of having to come up with a workable definition of culture. or we could be lazy and use wikipedia's. yeah, let's do that. specifically, let's look at this passage:

Some aspects of human behavior, such as language, social practices such as kinship, gender and marriage, expressive forms such as art, music, dance, ritual, religion, and technologies such as cooking, shelter, clothing are said to be cultural universals, found in all human societies.

that seems like a decent list of things that can be considered "cultural" without causing too many problems. i'll use myself as an example, but anyone can do this.

in terms of language, i am clearly a product of english-speaking culture. that puts me anywhere within the british isles. in terms of "social practices" i am culturally christian, more specifically protestant. as for cultural technologies, i am solely a product of the time in which i live. i don't have the faintest idea what would constitute my cultural leanings in this regard, since those things are determined as much by climate and natural resources as anything else.

on the question of kinship, my family identifies primarily as scottish on one side and welsh on the other. seems reasonable, right? well, not really. both sides start off scottish and welsh, but once you scratch the surface, there's a lot more english in me than anything else. but that's ok, since that fits with the english language thing. except that it really, really doesn't.

the only reason that my scottish family ended up here in canada to begin with was because they were hounded out of britain for their opposition to england and protestantism. yes, that's right, my english-speaking, protestant-churching background is a lie. i mean, the english-speaking is still ok, although a lot of my scottish family likely spoke both english and gaelic, not necessarily in that order, but the protestant bit was foisted on that part of the family in my grandparents' generation. before that, they had been catholic for centuries. and if you're a christian, that's a pretty big difference.

but since i personally don't speak gaelic and my knowledge of catholicism is limited to their architecture, it's a stretch for me to identify as scottish, even though it's been the part of my heritage i've identified with most closely since childhood. then again, there are lots of scottish protestants and they all speak english now, so maybe it doesn't matter whether i move back to scotland or england, since they're basically the same thing. [i dare you to stand up in a pub in glasgow and yell that out on a saturday night.]

from another perspective, i could simply label myself as culturally celtic. after all, i have scottish blood from the western highlands and the isles welsh blood from the south [carmarthenshire and pembrokeshire, although my closest welsh relatives are actually from the borderlands in denbighshire and wrexham up north], and irish blood from the northern part of the island. that's three of the six celtic nations right there. and those ties go back well before the norman invasion. and there is a consistency there because most of my family were forced out of britain because, like a lot of those from celtic groups, they were greatly disenfranchised.

but if we're going back that far, then i have to look at the whole "english" thing. because the vast majority of my englishness is actually norman. there is part of me that is english all the way back to the time when they spelled it with an "a" [angle-land], but of the bits i can trace back anything near as far as the celtic parts of me come from normandy, which would make me culturally french. sort of. the normans were french, but the idea of "france" at that time was a little tenuous, and what was more important was what province or duchy you came from. so, normandy then, which is now part of france, but which at the time was a sort of blend of french and germanic [not german, because germany didn't exist until much, much later] cultures. but normandy now is in france and has been for a long time and while i speak french, it would be a stretch to say that i am culturally french. and although my family, well, parts of it, were planted in normandy for some time, they tended to come more from the germanic parts. lots of them came from the area around liège, which actually isn't in france or germany, but belgium. does that make me belgian?

as it happens, there's other parts of europe that have at least as good a claim to me, although it wouldn't be obvious at first. that would be spain. spain? i'm not saying they're relatives i knew personally, but they're considerably more recent than the pre-invasion normans or belgians. at one point an english relative married a spaniard, which means that all those genes are still alive in me [and a lot of other people] today. but i'm mistaken when i say "spanish", because spain was sort of a fluid concept for a long while. and, though there were certainly people from groups who would primarily identify as "spanish" today, the majority of the blood i have from the area that is part of modern-day spain is basque. those people aren't overly fond of being referred to as spanish.

but if you're including them, you sort of have to include a lot of burgundians, which brings us back to france, even though it's difficult to talk about medieval normandy and burgundy as being the same country. more members of the same fraternity.

for that matter, a significant number of norwegians married into the scottish branch of the family and that came well after the normans had left their homes on the coast of france. and modern norway seems to be a natural fit for many of my world views. so maybe i should consider repatriating myself to norway.

and much more recently than any of that, part of the welsh-lancastrian side of the family is romani- gypsy- probably from hungary. and when i say "more recent" i mean at least as recent as a lot of my english family ties.

i don't know, this isn't my argument. you'd have to ask the right-wingers stomping around my homeland candidate belgium about this, about where one decides to draw a line to determine the boundaries of one's culture. because, as with any historical analysis, it's arbitrary. you can say that the english canadian culture of which i am a part is derived from british culture of the 16th-19th centuries, but that's useful for the purposes of anthropology, not the purposes of "repatriating" large numbers of individuals. you want to argue that people should stay in the country in which they were born? what year does that go into effect? is a child born in france to recent immigrant senegalese parents french or senegalese? what about a child born to english parents in portugal? these things happen. i know at least a few people who were born in one country to parents from another country who have spent the majority of their lives in a third country. the sort of broad strokes invoked when we talk about "culture" are difficult at best to pin down. but you can't make laws to deport people without specificity.

and just before winding this exercise in frustration up, allow me to return to a moment to that group of cultural markers that i found so problematic before- the "technologies" and "expressive forms". i was fibbing a little when i said that i didn't know where i fit, culturally in terms of those things. what i should have said is that i don't identify with a particular nationality for those things. culturally, i am a product of modern cities with relatively high standards of living, with significant space for secular views, high literacy rates and advanced communications structures. and everything about me individually is linked much more closely with that 'culture' than anything else. i'm more likely to have things in common with a secular-minded, university-educated, artistically-inclined person in singapore than i am with someone living in the countryside or in a small village three hours in any direction from my house.

those who say that immigrants should go "back where they came from" miss the point entirely: you cannot ascribe the culture of an individual person to one country, one ethnicity, one religion or one historical period. culture is [and must be] a living, moving, changing thing, a tension between experience and environment.

i may at some point move to another country. i may move to another place within this country. maybe i'll be able to connect that place to something from my family history, directly or indirectly. or maybe i won't, but it'll be a place where i feel "culturally comfortable". but the only sense in which i am going "back where i came from" is that right now it is getting late, i am tired and so i am going back to the bedroom i came out from this morning. 

22 March 2016

mental health mondays :: babble on

one of the things that i've rarely addressed on mental health mondays [and never in any meaningful detail] is the subject of what happens to our brains as we age. even those of us who are lucky enough to go through their lives without falling victim, even temporarily, to a mental illness [and that does still constitute a majority of us], have to accept that, as we age, we can lose a considerable amount of our cognitive functions. that can mean simply being confused, or struggling to find the right words, to bouts of dementia, to full-on alzheimer's disease.

we avoid calling these mental disorders, because they are accepted as a "natural" part of aging. that's just what happens to our brains. except that's not true. the more we study the brain, the more that we discover what's considered "natural" may actually be a byproduct of what we consider "normal" and should by no means be considered as a given. there are things that can keep the brain functioning at a higher level that are within reach of many people, it's just that we don't hear enough about them. and as it turns out, i've been warding off dementia for several months, although i didn't realise i was doing so, by studying languages. 

this is related to a concept called "neuroplasticity", which, if i may be allowed to grossly oversimplify, is the idea that your brain isn't static once it's reached its adult stage, but that it's kind of stretchy and squishy and that, when worked in the proper way, it can be reshaped in a way that makes it more efficient and more resilient to regular wear and tear. [for a less inane explanation, you can read this article.]

neuroplasticity itself is a well-studied phenomenon, although it's unfortunately become associated with companies seeking to market subscription services that purport to increase this function through "brain games". the science behind these games is hotly debated, meaning that there is no scientific consensus that these methods have any meaningful effect on keeping the brain "in shape" and helping to extend its strength. 

one thing that has been studied, however, is the effect on the brain of learning a second [or third, or fourth...] language. and unlike the games model, the benefits for the brain that come from language learning go beyond the skills specifically related to language itself. in fact, it actually makes the brain grow [don't worry, your skull won't suddenly get too small].

as i mentioned earlier, those who speak more than one language tend to stave off age-related dementia by about four years compared to their unilingual counterparts. bundled into that benefit is that the skills developed are long-term: once you've developed them, it seems that the perks that come with language-learning stay with you. [it's not clear exactly how long the effect stays, or how this persistence is related to the maintenance/ practice of language learning, but polyglots definitely have an advantage.]

there have also been studies that indicate those who can speak or understand more than one language are more perceptive about their surroundings and make more rational decisions [for instance, about money]. being financially smarter is nice enough, but the basis of the skill has a lot more applications. every language reflects something of the culture in which it develops. that's why languages borrow words and expressions from others- because there isn't something that they already have that matched. some of those are very obvious: english uses the german "angst" and the french "je ne sais quoi" because they have an implication that goes beyond "fear" and "i don't know what". others have been in the language so long that we no longer notice their foreign origins. [in fact, english is an amalgam of almost nothing but foreign words, but that's another story.]

all that is to say that knowing only one language effectively applies blinkers to one's worldview, because, without the words to do so, it's difficult to understand ideas that come from a different culture. learning another language can help remove those psychological blinkers and at the same time, make it easier to see the underlying meaning in things like advertising or politics.

plus, of course, learning a language makes you more aware of the workings of languages- parts of speech, word order, verb tenses- which bleeds back into your use of your own language. learning the difference between "tu regardais" and "tu regarderais" forces you to think about the differences between saying "you watched" and "you would have watched", if only on a near-subconscious level. [and of course, learning a third language can create a spillover effect into the other two, etc.] so it strengthens your ability to communicate in general.

i could not find any studies that have been done on whether there is a correlation between language learning and mental health. they seem to involve very different parts of the brain, but when something is so closely connected, it seems that it would be an interesting subject, at least. you can be certain that, if and when such a thing does appear, i'll be all over it. until then, you'll just have to be happy in the relative certainty that you're delaying dementia, increasing your brain size and being more perceptive.

p.s. :: if you're interested in learning another language and are wondering about the difficulty level involved, i recommend this handy chart.

p.p.s. :: there are a number of free online language courses available. thus far, i've had very positive experiences with duolingo.

p.p.p.s. :: i know it's tuesday. i'm not that forgetful yet.

18 March 2016

making faces :: whispers of spring

spring still is not upon us for another few days, but spring makeup collections have been upon us for a while now. in fact, i first encountered yves st. laurent's "boho stones" spring collection while i was finishing my christmas shopping, which should warrant a ticket or something. i mean, telling canadians that spring is right around the corner in december qualifies as at least mildly offensive.

nonetheless, i was entranced by the marbled packaging and sweet, fresh, spring-like colours, so it was only a matter of time until i gave in to temptation. of course, it's been a matter of more time that i've been meaning to get around to writing this review, but that's at least partly because i've had very narrow windows in which to get decent swatch photographs because montreal doesn't get a lot of light in the middle of winter. [although, to be fair, it's been brighter than average this year, especially compared to last. but it doesn't stay bright for long, so getting swatches is half having decent light and half me being free to do swatches during the three hours of daylight we have.]

fortunately, the collection is still available from most retailers, so you shouldn't have too much trouble tracking down any items that you want.

"boho stones" is all about milky washing of colour, calling to mind a tie-dyed effect, but done in the sweet shades of early spring. there are apple blossom pinks, tree bud greens and a touch of winter white. some photos make the collection look quite colourful, but this is all about delicate, muted pastels with low contrast from one shade to another, although there is one brighter lip product on offer.

my choice from the collection was the "indie jasper" eyeshadow palette. i'm a fan of the ysl shadow formula, both in the palettes and in singles, and i'm a sucker for the combination of green with pinky-peach. it's something that's been done before, but the examples that i can think of- most notably guerlain's "coup de foudre" palette from a few springs back- have been more about pigmentation and warmer, woodsy colours.

the palette includes five colours, which are supposed to be, going clockwise from the upper left, an all-over base, a highlight, two lid shades and a liner shade in the middle. i can't see this palette working this way, though, because the central shade can in no way be considered a liner. i'd also have some concerns about using the first colour as a base, since base shades are normally more matte/ satin in finish and because i think that it would clash noticeably with other colours in the palette.

the first shade, we have a gorgeous soft peach with a white sheen to it. this is a really pretty shade, pinker than similar shades like chanel "complice" or le metier de beauté "nouvelle". as a result, i think it will suit cooler complexions more than warm ones, but hey, we don't get a lot of peaches that lean cooler, so grant us this one, will you? this one also had a tendency to spread itself around, but the colour payoff was much better, so you don't have to go back to the pan quite as often. i found the lasting power on this shade to be greater than the others in the palette.

indie jasper #1

l to r :: indie jasper, lmdb nouvelle [l.e.]
second is a creamy vanilla, shimmery without being outright frosty. it makes a good highlighter on me, although it's a touch deeper than the highlight shades i normally use, and there's enough yellow in the mix that it's unlikely to turn ashy on darker or warmer skin tones. it is very delicate, so it helps to pat it in place and build it up to the desired intensity, which is a good thing [you have more control over the exact shade you get] or a bad thing [it takes more work], depending on your point of view. it does have a tendency to kick up a lot of powder, which is annoying in something that takes layering.

indie jasper #2
there are a lot of highlighter shades like this, although the golden warmth does make it more distinctive. it's a softer option to something like mac "nylon".

third, there is a light, icy green, a very nice complement to the peach shade. again, it's going to be friendlier to cooler complexions, although greens tend to adapt fairly well compared to other colours. this colour wasn't quite as powdery as the previous two, but it still got a little messy. this is another one that really needs to be patted in place, or else it looks more like a white with a slightly green cast than the colour you see in the pan. i think that you could combine it with the first shade for a very delicate look, with more of a sheen than a dose of colour. this one had a tendency to sheer out, so i'd recommend a careful [light] hand when blending. i also found that it faded faster than the other shades.

indie jasper #3
you'd think that this sort of icy green would be common enough, but it really isn't. the lighter green from "coup de foudre" is deeper and brighter, while mac "aquavert" is lighter.

l to r :: guerlain coup de foudre [l.e.], indie jasper, mac aquavert
fourth, we have the darkest shade in the palette, a medium-deep moss green/ khaki. it's firmer than the lighter shades, but gives great colour. the lighter colours in the palette make it look darker than it really is, but in fact it's enough to offer some contrast without sacrificing the overall softness of the palette. the lasting power was very good, although, like a lot of such colours, it tended to fade to a greyish looking shade by late in the day. it's a very good iteration of this kind of shade, but i found myself wishing that they'd done something a little different- a slightly bluer dark green would have gone better with the shades of the palette overall.

indie jasper #4
i went back to compare this once again to "coup de foudre", but the darkest shade in that palette is quite a bit darker [to balance the brighter, deeper colours] and browner. chanel "les automnales #1" is brighter and warmer.

l to r :: guerlain coup de foudre [l.e.], indie jasper, chanel les automnales [l.e.]

finally, in the centre, we have a silver glitter. like a lot of glitter shades, it doesn't have much of a base colour, but i can see it being used to create a "frosted" effect when pressed over the other shadows. unfortunately, i can't speak a lot about what can be done with it, because i had an immediate allergic reaction when i tried it out on the inner corners of my eyes. a few days later, i tried using it farther away from my actual eyeball, but i still got a reaction. you can definitely expect some fallout from this colour, because the glitter isn't tightly bound together or anything, but that's pretty much all i can tell you. it's a complete no-go for me.

indie jasper #5
i don't have a good dupe for this, mainly because i tend to avoid very sparkly shades. they irritate my eyes...

you've already seen "indie jasper" in action once, in the review i did of products from rituelle de fille, but here's another application. i took a bit of a chance with this one, using the peach colour along my lower lash lines and in the corners of my eyes. i'm a little mixed about the result, but i think that it does clearly show the pinkness in the shade. the lipstick here is armani rouge ecstasy in "plum vinyl", which you can read about here.

this is a super-soft look, largely featuring the peach shade, which is probably my favourite in the whole palette. i used it all over the lid, with the vanilla used as a highlighter and just a little on the inner corners of the eyes. the darkest shade is dusted very lightly in the crease and the light green is dusted along the lower lash line, which gives a really nice "calming" effect. the lipstick is nars bilbao.

and while i didn't get decent shots of my first attempt with the palette [not enough light], here are a couple just to show how the silver glitter shade looked for about ten minutes, before it made my eyes explode. [actually, you can already see that it's causing increased creasing under my left eye. i have crow's feet, but they're not that pronounced.] lipstick is the sadly discontinued dior "chic pink".

this is a nice palette, but i feel like it isn't quite up to the high standards of the permanent palettes. it's an option for people who want a delicate, icy look and, if you can handle the glitter, i think it would be beautiful for a night out. it's definitely an option for women who like a lighter look to their makeup overall, but don't want to stick strictly to neutrals. 

17 March 2016

a little irish in me

carrickfergus castle. not mine.
today is the day when we all throw on some green and pretend to be a little irish in order to stake their claim to cheap beer and to honour their fake ancestors by passing out in a pool of their own urine by eight o'clock. godspeed you, little irish wannabes, it's taken centuries of regular gorging to get our livers this resilient. this isn't just something that you develop over the course of a few hours, once a year. but your effort is adorable. at least, it's adorable as long as i don't catch you peeing in my yard. that's the moment at which you get introduced to the irish temper.

of course, if you're white, or have some white ancestry, chances are you might actually be a little irish, because those genes got everywhere, especially in america, but in most former british colonies. in fact, st. patrick's day is a bigger deal in the new world than in ireland itself, owing to the fact that it was the day in which immigrants [who were often closer to the modern day concept of refugees and were greeted with the same mix of pity and suspicion] honoured the homeland they missed so much. people who lived in ireland weren't so preoccupied with the glories of the homeland, since they were often collapsing from starvation in its emerald fields.

being white [really white, in every sense] and having descended from people who lived in every other part of great britain and ireland, i was certain that there must have been some irish blood that got in there, but it took me a while to find it. in fact, i have two separate sources of irishness in me, one comparatively recent and the other considerably further back. i should add that my father has steadfastly insisted that there was no chance that any irish blood got into the mix, because, as a proud scotsman, even the implication was an affront.

the first instance of irish-ness comes from a portion of my family whose last name was jackson. they emigrated to canada from carrickfergus ireland, which is a town near belfast known for having a lovely castle that has never belonged to any member of my family. that is basically the sum total of everything i know about this family, because once i traced them back to the old country, they completely disappear. i know that my progenitor moved with his father from carrickfergus and married after arriving in nova scotia. i also know that his name was samuel, which means that i have a direct relative named samuel jackson, so i'm desperately hoping to turn up some kind of document that shows his middle name was leo, or larry, or lincoln, or anything that lets me talk about being descended from samuel l. jackson. [my own personal bit of black irish heritage.]

the o'cahan homeland. also not mine.
the second irish branch of my family, as i mentioned, is considerably further back. it enters the picture in the medieval period, through an ancestor named agnes o'cahan, who married into the macdonald family. the o'cahans were royalty of a sort, kings of limavady [léim a'mhadaidh, for those of you who want to give your tongues a workout] near londonderry, which is kind of like me saying i'm the queen of my apartment. i can be all the royalty i want until i try venturing beyond my front door. the o'cahans [also the o'cathans, depending on whom you asked] stuck to londonderry because attempts to move beyond that were generally met with a massive norman-english boot to the face.

it must have been a bit humiliating for the o'cahans, whose heritage in ireland stretched back hundreds of years, long before these french fops started charging across the channel and claiming bits of the larger island for themselves. how far back? i managed to trace their lineage to about 100bce, and i stopped copying before i ran out of names, figuring i might as well just get a copy of the chronicles of ulster and use it. although it can be tricky relying on ancient manuscripts that also include tales of spirits rising from the hills and military generals taking the form of animals during battle, there does seem to be at least some attempt at respecting the lineage of persons involved with early irish history. so while it might not be 100% reliable, those transcriptions do at least give me a hint of where one part of me might have come from, beyond the time when there were legal records.

the most important aspect of this discovery is, of course, that i now have a family tree that goes further back than rick santorum's. so now i live out the rest of my life in peace, without the idea that santo has shown himself to be better at something than i am. hallelujah. the other cool part, of course, is that i have a family tree that extends past the year 0, which is a pretty impressive thing to have going. and thirdly, both of these irish branches come from my father's side of the family. which means that he now has to bear the mark of genealogical shame, not just because he has two different strains of irish in his scottish blood, but because his irish family is better-documented than his scottish one.

st. gertrude's abbey. still not mine.
so that's the part of me that celebrates st. patrick's day. but st. patrick doesn't have this day all to himself, because the 17th of march is also the feast day of st. gertrude of nivelles, in modern-day belgium.

gertrude is considered a saint, although she was technically never made a saint, because she and her mother, itta, founded a monastery in nivelles, which was all you really had to do to get the word "saint" attached to your name at that point. [we were, mercifully, past the days of sainthood meaning you were murdered in some horribly creative way for your beliefs.] she was also apparently a bit of a seventh century firecracker: when asked by the king if she'd be interested in marrying one of his sons as a political arrangement, she told his royal highness to go piss up a rope, saying that she was never going to marry any earthly man and that her only husband would be jesus. of course, she was ten at the time, which might seem a little young to be making those proclamations, but it was also kind of young to be getting married off to the king's horny son. so gertrude scored a victory against pedophilia that should be granted more attention. [and, indeed, she never did marry, but died quite young, even for the time.]

gertrude is now revered as the patron saint of the mentally ill and was summoned to help against infestations of rats. [yeah, catholicism is totally monotheistic.] this was apparently because she was always pictured with a cat, so i guess when people prayed to her, she would just miraculously appear and throw a cat at them, like the old lady from the simpsons.

blessings upon you!!!
to return to that anecdote about gertrude and the perverted king, her strength of will might have served her well, but it doesn't seem to have run in the family. her father, pepin of landen [pepin i, pepin the elder, pippin... people had a lot of names back then], might not have succeeded in marrying her off to the merovingian prince, but he did pass off his younger daughter, begga, to the son of the bishop of metz. through that marriage, his family [the pippinids] were united with the powerful arnulfings and together they eventually formed the carolingian dynasty. that dynasty's best known leader was charlemagne, however it's more important at this moment to know that the direct descendents of begga and her arnulfing husband [ansegiesel, if you were wondering, which you weren't] include me.

that's right. i am a distant relative of the patron saint of cats and the mentally ill. the patron saint of crazy cat ladies.

so tonight i'm celebrating my irish heritage by having a drink, but it's a belgian-style beer in honour of one of the relatives i like to think i most resemble. i don't think i'm going to get to be a saint, though. 

14 March 2016

mental health mondays :: guess again

you will refrain from eating cookies- for science!
over the last few weeks, while i was busy writing up posts on the issues surrounding post-traumatic stress disorder, something scary happened in the world of psychology. if you follow developments in the field, chances are that you've heard about this already, but if not, let me clue you in: it turns out that one of the foundational studies in behavioural science may well be complete hooey.

the theory, which has been taken as gospel for so long that it forms the basis of later psychological work, stems from an experiment done by two scientists on a group of university students two decades ago [which isn't really that long ago at all, but when you consider the advances made in psychology during that time, it might as well have been in the stone age]. the experiment falls into the "kinda of douche-y but not dangerous" category, so we're not talking about mk-ultra here. you can read about it in the excellent article linked above, or you can read my paltry summation of its findings:

exerting willpower [e.g., forcing oneself to eat radishes rather than freshly baked cookies when presented with both] exhausts one's "supply" of willpower in the same way that exercising a muscle exhausts that muscle.

it's a study that's been cited by thousands of other papers and used as the basis of dozens of other experiments, but a recent analysis suggests that the results of the original study are difficult to reproduce. and by difficult, i mean, they can be reproduced about half the time. another way of putting that would be to say that the experiment has an equal chance of working or not working when it comes to supporting the hypothesis.

there is, of course, a lot more work and research to be done, because the importance of this idea is such that you can't just toss it out at the first major roadblock, but if the theory of "ego depletion" does turn out to be untenable, it may hold a valuable lesson about the dangers of expectations.

the "ego depletion" hypothesis is [or was] appealing, because it seems to confirm long-held western beliefs: our culture, shaped largely by the teachings of the christian church, explicitly validates the idea that character is strengthened through privation, whether it's from cookies, sex, or wealth. we now understand that those teachings were intended largely to keep the great part of the population from resenting those who were wealthy and licentious. "sure, it looks like we're having fun, but you can feel smug because you know you'll be rewarded once you're dead."

even as the importance of religious teaching fades from importance in the lives of most westerners, its tenets are still dug deep in our collective psyche. we may not believe that having numerous sexual partners is sinful, for instance, but there is still a huge segment of the population that, to some extent, views themselves as being "better" for resisting their urges. why better? you can make arguments about the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases, but protection can be used with one partner or a hundred. ultimately, it comes down to our cultural programming: we are stronger, better people when we show that we can deprive ourselves of something innocuous that we want.

we are also taught that the more or longer we are tempted towards sin or cookies, the weaker our resolve becomes and the stronger we must be to withstand it. our culture quite literally programs us, reinforcing the message that as our will is tested, it becomes more and more likely to break under the strain. everything we know, everything that our culture teaches us, would lead us to believe that the results of the willpower study were believable.

to that end, it seems like the great cookie experiment was fated to reach the conclusions it did, because both the scientists and the participants had the same built-in biases i've just described. for the experiment to be a true barometer of human behaviour, eliminating social programming, there would have to be a way of blinding the study so that those biases were blocked from interfering. easy for me to say.

the ultimate fate of the ego depletion thesis rests with those far better educated than i, and we're all better for it. but i would like to put it out there that whenever a "big idea" in psychology or behavioural science [i've used these terms interchangeably in this post, even though they are two different things, so shame on me] confirms our gut feelings, we should immediately look at how our biases were or were not eliminated from the testing process. 

13 March 2016

questions someone needs to ask hillary clinton

part of the problem with following politics of any kind is having to watch hours of television interviews, desperately waiting to see one or two particular questions asked and just never having it happen.

all candidates seem to get away with softball questions, or avoiding something that should be obvious. there are candidates who get a free ride from certain networks, but there are some who manage to slide by just because people seem to miss the important things in their policies or history. 

i feel like hillary clinton is both lucky and unlucky in this regard, because too many reporters are obsessed with what are really sideshow issues. is there really any point to asking a candidate why they are trustworthy when voters don't think she is? instead, it would make sense to ask her tough questions but ones where her answers would give meaningful insight into her character and her motivations. 

so here are a few questions that i think i'd like to hear the former first lady, senator and secretary of state answer:

1. you have been a strong supporter of the affordable care act, which has resulted in millions of americans getting coverage when they could not afford it before. given that america lags behind other countries in public health access, do you support a gradual transition to single payer healthcare, or do you think that the public/ private hybrid will be sufficient to meet america's needs?

2. you were a major proponent of intervening in libya and creating the conditions for regime change. in the time since the death of colonel ghadaffi, libya has become another highly unstable nation vulnerable to terrorist groups. why did you support a policy of intervention when such policies have proven so problematic in other countries? 

3. as president, would you refer a question to the supreme court to have them overturn the citizens united ruling?

4. you are routinely linked to your husband's policies from his time as president by people who assume that you agreed with all of them. which, if any decisions would you have made differently?

5. while I generally agree with senator sanders that "nobody cares about your damn emails", there are some concerns beyond their content. what precautions did you take to ensure that these messages would be made available to the government [and ultimately to the american people] for scrutiny and archiving? 

those are just a few questions that i think could start a much more meaningful conversation about her candidacy, even if it is little late getting started. 

11 March 2016

making faces :: women's rites

the magic of the internet, specifically the magic of instagram, recently brought me in contact with rituelle de fille, a new brand [launched in 2014] and completely new to me, although some of their products have apparently received plaudits from the media. their branding reminds me very much of the early years of illamasqua: a well-edited collection of colour products [there are no base or complexion products as of yet, except blush] with an emphasis on including shades that are daring and unexpected. 

i picked up three products, which are offered individually or as a set, as the "fleur sauvage" collection, inspired by "lush overgrowth, the deadly allure of carnivorous plants, and the strange chromatic language whispered between flowers and pollinators". there is no price difference between buying the items separately or individually, it's just a matter of selected partnering [and i believe all three products were launched together in spring 2015]. there are two lipstick shades in two different formulas and a cream blush, which do evoke the shades of a subtropical rainforest in unexpected ways. 

first up, we have the enchanted lip sheer lipstick in "blood root". according to the brand, the enchanted lip sheers are "highly moisturizing" and deliver "translucent yet vibrant color". they're designed to go from a softer, semi-sheer shade on a single swipe to something bolder, but not completely opaque if built up. i'd say that's a reasonable description, but the colour payoff at first swipe is still pretty pigmented, so if you're looking for something that's truly sheer, and gives more of that "whisper of colour" effect, these probably aren't for you. i'd say that the pigment goes from semi-opaque to nearly opaque with just a hint of translucency. 

the formula reminds me a little of my beloved armani rouge ecstasy lipsticks, but a bit stiffer/ firmer. it can "snag" on imperfections in the lips, which is more obviously when you're working with a formula that's not fully opaque, so you'll want to make sure that you exfoliate a little before wearing them. i did find it to be a nicely moisturizing formula, even on days when my lips were really fussy. the finish is a satin-matte. it has a slight sheen, but it's subtle. in this case, the firmer texture worked in the product's favour, because i experienced no feathering and as it faded, it left a nice stain. 

08 March 2016

mental health mondays :: something to remember

this is the third and final chapter in our look at post-traumatic stress disorder. having looked at the condition and its different forms over the last two weeks, i thought it was an appropriate time to look at one of the most controversial things associated with it: the phenomenon of recovered memory.

it is not uncommon for people suffering from ptsd to have amnesia. in order to cope with memories that are "too much" for it to process, the brain dissociates them from the rest of its contents, locking them away and stuffing the key somewhere conscious you can't find it. as you might have guessed, this is something related to other dissociative disorders, all of which stem from your brain considering something and deciding you'd be better off without it, either temporarily or permanently.

dissociative amnesia is not the same as post-traumatic amnesia, which is another type of amnesia, borne of a traumatic event, but where the memory loss is caused by physical damage to the brain. of course, it's not impossible to have both these things happening at once [soldiers from wwi suffered brain damage from the percussive blasts of shells, but also showed dissociative symptoms caused by the horrors to which they were exposed]. but generally, unless there is notable physical trauma to the head [or an undiagnosed problem with the brain], amnesia regarding traumatic events is a likely dissociative.

and now the bad news: the short bit i've written thus far already exceeds what is agreed on by science about dissociative amnesia. some scientists don't think it even exists, claiming that memories are processed the same way no matter what sort of memories they are and that the brain just doesn't choose to omit some. that's an extremist stance, but it's still pretty common to hear the wholesale dismissal of "recovered" memories, which, as the name suggests, are those which are ultimately unlocked from the secret hiding place where the brain has stored them.

and there's good reason to be skeptical. the psychology of repressed memory first emerged in the eighties, coming to the public's attention largely through an autobiography called michelle remembers and a sudden onslaught of cases of satanic ritual abuse, in particular a series of lurid charges against the proprietors and staff of the mcmartin preschool in california. both of these involved allegations of almost incomprehensible abuse of children and animals, and one could hardly blame the subjects for having blocked it from their conscious life. the only problem? none of it was true. indeed, the tales of satanic abuse seemed more closely related to a repressed cultural anxiety as more and more children were placed into daycare so that both parents could be in the workforce than to repressed memories.

the techniques used by many psychologists and social workers investigating claims of ritual abuse were suggestive and coercive and, given that the alleged victims were still preschool-aged children, may have actually implanted a false memory in them. however, there is evidence that some children do repress abuse. which leaves us with the conundrum that there are repressed memories, they can be recovered, but doing the recovery incorrectly can result in the emergence of realistic-seeming memories that actually aren't true.

i highly recommend reading elizabeth loftus' seminal paper [written in 1993] the reality of repressed memories. dr. loftus has done a great deal of work on memory and on the malleability of memory. her work is important in understanding how false memories can be introduced [and how their introduction can be avoided]. it is not without its own controversies [nothing in this area is], but it's an excellent starting point. i also found this article [registration required to read the full piece], which is a look at the science related to repressed memories [and where it is lacking].

the good news is that the incidence of truly repressed memories is rare enough that you're unlikely to have anything lurking in your subconscious waiting for you to trip over it. if there are memories that you worry you- things that feel disturbing or which you struggle to place in context- they are worth noting and discussing with a psychiatrist or psychologist.

that said, i'm also wary of investing these things with greater power than they deserve and so i'll add: not everything that we suddenly recall is something that's been repressed. we forget things that are important to us all the time, even things that caused us to significantly alter our behaviour. i couldn't tell you who taught me to tie my shoelaces, but i retain the skill. give your brain permission to have lost a few things over the years before you accuse it of hiding things from you. 

04 March 2016

how low can you go?

i've been a little strapped for blogging time this week, but if you've been wondering where i've been, you need only click on the link to my twitter account to find out. for some reason, this week has been replete with things that demanded my attention, allowing only short pauses for the release of venom and frustration [in increments of 140 characters or less]. but whatever else i might have on my plate, there was no way i was going to pass up the opportunity to say a few words about last night's republican "presidential" candidates' debate. however, i then realised that punk poet laureates dayglo abortions had already said the words i had in mind:

within minutes of turning on my television set, donald trump was there reassuring the nation that there's nothing wrong with his penis size. dom and i sort of looked at each other, dumbfounded, as the most embarrassing campaign for a presidential nomination managed to crash through a few more levels of shame on its way to a bottom that just seems to keep getting deeper.

i mean, on some level, we're aware that all political races are some sort of metaphorical dick measuring contest, because most things are, but the emphasis is almost always on the metaphorical part. even when these things have arisen before [please don't go down this road-ed.], it's been in very different contexts. monica lewinski testified that bill clinton packed a roll of quarters. forensic historians recently revealed that hitler's junk was even more comically inept than previously thought. [i really hope that's going to be added to standard twentieth century history curricula going forward.] the thing is, it's usually other people who bring this stuff to our attention. trump just decided to lay it out there at the starting gate. [not literally, but you know that's coming.]

one of his campaign advisors, who appeared on cnn so that the network could claim that they are taking his candidacy seriously, tried to argue that trump was completely entitled to raise this [stop it! -ed.], because marco rubio had made a joking remark about the size of the donald's hands, with a little wink to the audience, at a campaign event earlier in the week. [and he did, because he, like every other person with internet access, saw john oliver's epic trump takedown on sunday, where he revealed a bizarre story of the magnate's hypersensitivity that started with an innocuous joke about the size of his fingers. it should be a little scary to us all just how much of the content of last night's debate can be traced directly to oliver and his team, who are ostensibly producing a comedy show and not a news magazine.] fellow cnn commentator, voice of sanity and thinking girl's man candy van jones tried to point out that just because rubio set the trap did not mean that trump had to go running headlong into it. he suggested that trump could have shown leadership by refusing to lower himself, to which the trumpeter responded that that would not have been leading, it would have been following. that one still has me shaking my head, but i guess the woman is a trump supporter, so our expectations should be adjusted accordingly. in her defense, she managed to dress herself and didn't pee on her chair. as far as i know.

not to be outdone, ted cruz appeared to eat a booger, or a bug, or something that just didn't belong on his face or in his mouth during a forum where he is trying to convince people that he should be the next president of the united states. what is truly creepy, however, is that crusty-nose cruz seemed to be the winner of the night, or perhaps the least loser, since i don't see any wins coming out of this. indeed, when he wasn't eating smegma, cruz did a remarkable impression of staying above the fray, meaning that he steered clear of the rubio-trump brawl that was happening to his physical, if not his political right. rubio has just unloaded on trump in the last two debates and has proven to be the only candidate capable of taking the orange one down a few notches. in a development that none of us saw coming, rubio is surprisingly quick on his feet and has managed to flatten the bloviated builder in two successive debates with a few well-timed zingers, including one that was all the sharper for being partly at his own expense [chiding the donald for repeating himself, although the fact that rubio was well aware that the joke was on him as well seemed to go right over trump's coiffed head].

poor, sane john kasich just seemed to get left off the menu entirely, partly because no one was name-checking him, which left him relying on the fox news moderators [who gave surprisingly good performances as journalists] to ask him questions, which rarely happened. cruz managed to steal a bit of his "only adult in the room" aura, which seems unfair, since that's been kasich's thing since the very beginning of the debate cycle. of course, ted can't point to his experience getting things done which, whether or not you like what he did, kasich has in spades. nor does he have that warm, fuzzy, huggable kind of persona that [i think] makes kasich a much more worrying proposition for democrats.

at this point, it seems impossible that things can get any worse in this race. that said, next week will be the season finale. the very last republican debate before the end of this nomination cycle. that doesn't mean that the race is over, of course, because that only happens when one candidate amasses the number of delegates required to win the nomination at the convention. or not. because some republicans are floating the idea of a contested nomination at the convention, which is a term that most people probably haven't heard because it never fucking happens. it basically means that the nominating convention would actually see people nominated from the floor, thus rendering all of this long primary/ caucus process of delegate accumulation completely useless. there could also be a "brokered convention", which is a process whereby representatives of different camps meet and come up with some kind of agreement about who should be the presidential nominee, who should be vice president, and a bunch of other things that are supposed to keep people happy. however, to paraphrase cnn political analyst john king, can you imagine negotiating with the trump people?

the problem with those solutions is that, first, they rest on trump not getting the number of delegates required to win the nomination outright, and for that to happen, it seems like some desperately cynical politicking has to take place, which is the exact sort of thing that trump supporters are angry about to begin with. if you think they're obnoxious now, wait until their candidate gets gerrymandered out of the nomination by a bunch of political insiders [possibly including 2012 candidate mitt romney, who smacked trump upside the head this week with a binder full of women].

whatever happens, count on it being pretty awful, because from what we've seen so far, these men are willing to do anything except be rational and honest to win.

[while i was writing this, ben carson, who took a pass on last night, suspended his campaign for the nomination. nobody cared.]
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