29 November 2016

mental health mondays :: social disease

the woman on the left is an introvert.
the woman in the centre is judging you.
EDIT :: unsure if you meet the threshold for social anxiety? this quiz, while not a diagnostic tool, offers some guidance. the site also has information on what social anxiety is, common symptoms, and paths to treatment. [yes, i took the quiz. yes, my answers indicate some level of social anxiety.]

like a lot of introverts, i enjoy public speaking. think that sounds contradictory? i can understand your confusion, because there's a tendency to assume that all introverts are shy types, lacking in confidence. but for many introverts, discomfort doesn't come from having to be around people, but from having to interact with people, and the more personal and less structured the interaction, the more uncomfortable we get. but put us in a situation where we have to do something like deliver a speech in a highly controlled environment, where the other people are at a distance and where there's no need for incidental small talk, and we're surprisingly comfortable.

that wasn't always the case, for me, though. for most of my early life, i was so petrified of public speaking that i would go to almost any length to avoid it. if i had to speak in front of a class at school, i would feel physically ill for hours beforehand. i tried the whole "confront your fears" thing by participating in school debate clubs and model parliaments, which succeeded only in making me feel like the worst public speaker in recorded history. [not that any of it was recorded. i'm thankful every day for the fact that recording and sharing technology was unknown at the time.] at that point in my life, i wasn't just an introvert, but someone with a social phobia, and a very common one.

i share those rather mundane details as a way of illustrating a point: social phobia, or social anxiety, is not the same as being introverted. social anxiety stems from a deep-seated fear of the reactions of others. in our ancient, pre-linguistic cave-dwelling past, that reaction was what warned us not to just wander up to groups of hominids we didn't know. it's still the reaction that makes us say "no, strange person in the dirty panel van, i would not like to come and see the video arcade that you've installed in your basement." but, as we've reformed our world faster than our mind can adjust, those very reasonable reactions start poking out like springs in an old mattress, and, like those springs, they can cause some pretty ungodly pain.

people with social anxiety have difficulty meeting other people, interacting with authority figures, and being the subject of attention [especially if the attention seems belittling, like someone teasing them or criticizing them]. introverts, despite the fact that western culture esteems extroverts, can generally find their way through the social ecosystem without too many problems. people with social anxiety can't. their fear of failure and/ or ridicule is crippling. [oh, and if you're one of those blustery types who says that you don't care what anyone thinks of you, because you just do what you want, consider that the need to assert your superiority over something may well be a defense mechanism in and of itself.]

the term "social anxiety disorder" is tossed around a lot and, like obsessive compulsive disorder, it gets pretty heavily abused. often, people refer to themselves as having social anxiety because they don't like to be in a crowd. [in all my years on this planet, i have yet to meet anyone who likes being in a crowd. the reactions generally range from barely tolerant to outright rage.] there is also the potential to equate social anxiety with shyness, which is tricky, because people who have social anxiety are shy, they're just shy on a level that goes beyond the usual "takes a while to come out of their shell" way. [side note :: the western obsession with individuality seems to put us at a far greater risk than cultures that have a more collectivist mindset. the pressure to be our own, individual person creates a bizarre side effect: the inability to be our own, individual person among others.]

while people with social anxiety can have panic attacks in situations where they might feel exposed, there's no rule that says that panic and social anxiety go together [or that panic and any kind of anxiety go together for that matter]. a person can feel troubled and emotional and uneasy without breaking into full-blown panic and that doesn't mean the problem is any less serious. [some argue that people with panic disorder don't even realise that their attacks are stress induced and believe them to be caused by a physical problem outside the brain. i don't personally agree with that hypothesis, but it's an opinion that comes from folks who are more versed than i am in the world of psychology.] so having a complete meltdown is not a prerequisite for being considered socially disordered.

so how do you tell the difference between acceptable shyness and a disorder? well, my smart-ass answer is that you don't, a doctor does. but a useful way of approaching things, if you don't yet want to involve a doctor, is to try to track situations where you feel stressed and unable to function, and to take special note of things that you may avoid doing/ feel unable to do because of that stress. being unable to bring yourself to sing karaoke might not be something that compromises your future [if you have a voice like me, it's something that might save it]. being unable to voice an opinion in a group at work, on the other hand, could keep you from being able to progress in a field that you really love. and avoiding certain activities altogether stops you from experiencing any of the enjoyment and benefits you might get from them.

a lot of the time, social anxiety triggers visible physical symptoms, like profuse sweating, stammering, flushing and trembling. and while we all get those sometimes, they shouldn't be overwhelming and they shouldn't be so obvious that other people are worried. but even if the signs are physical, if the unpleasant symptoms you associate with interacting with others are powerful enough to stop you from doing something you actually want to, or feel you need to, do, they're worth talking to someone about.

unfortunately, a number of people, professionally trained people, think that the best way to work through this is to just confront the fear head on. [do they tell that to people who have a fear of death, i wonder?] that's a pretty ugly way in which a professional can be wrong and, given that interactions with professionals or authority figures are often difficult for people with social anxiety disorder, it's something that likely prolongs a lot of people's suffering.

why? because the problem in social anxiety disorder isn't with the social interactions per se, but with the thought patterns surrounding them. encouraging people to put themselves in situations that scare them is only helpful if those fears have a solid rational base, e.g., "i am afraid of the ocean because i don't know how to swim." someone with that sort of fear might be terrified to take swimming lessons, but, through careful and controlled exposure, could learn to overcome the fear. however, if i am left flushed and shaking at the thought of being around strangers and having to talk to them, chances are i don't fear what they are actually going to do to me. i don't go to meetings in the office thinking that if they don't like my plan for the upcoming quarter, they're going to skin me alive. instead, i fear on some level that they find me ridiculous or ignorant, and that on its own, even if they have no power to do anything else to me [and even if i am not eager to impress those specific individuals], is enough to make me ill. people who have social anxiety are often well aware that their fears are not rational [as in, they know that nothing bad is really going to happen to them], but that's sort of like me saying i understand the process of nuclear fusion in theory: neither one of these things is going to have an effect on real world events. a therapist who insists that all a person needs to do is face their fears, without any other help, is not someone who should be entrusted with healing your brain. [keep in mind that, at the other end of the spectrum, there's no evidence whatsoever that medication alone helps with social anxiety in anything but the immediate short term. if all your doctor wants you to do is medicate before a potentially stressful situation, tell them to prescribe something in a single malt, since that's going to have a lot fewer additional ingredients for your system to process.]

so, no matter how uncomfortable you feel about standing your ground against someone in a position of authority, never let yourself be bullied into a course of treatment that doesn't feel right. ask questions. ask all the questions. ask for better answers from better people if you don't like the ones that you're getting. you have the right to live with manageable levels of stress in regular situations. social anxiety is a burden, but it's actually one that's very responsive to therapy [which, unlike drugs or just thrusting yourself into a situation you fear, actually will address the thought patterns that are associated with your stress]. so grab life by the horns, or the reins, or whatever part you feel would make the best sort of statement. make eye contact with people you don't know for just long enough to seem confident but not creepy. smile at someone you've just met and be comfortable in the knowledge that they aren't judging you because they couldn't care less about your existence and won't even remember your name in twenty minutes. march into work tomorrow and tell the coworker whose desk is located closest to the meeting room that you've vomited in her filing cabinet for the last time. you are wounded, but you can heal. 

22 November 2016

making faces :: flower of scotland

ah, the resilient, hardy thistle. the english can go on about their roses, but the oldest national flower that we know of is the thistle, and it represents the resilient, hardy scots who sit forever perched on england's shoulder. it's a peculiar-looking purple flower, encircled by stems with sharp thorns and invasive like a weed, and it does seem to rather sum up the condition of scottish-ness rather well.

it's also, as it turns out, the name of one of the six lipsticks launched by bite beauty this summer as the first extension of their "amuse bouche" lipstick line. given my well-established interest in genealogy and family history, as well as my obsession with lipsticks, it was always pretty much a given that i was going to buy a lipstick called "thistle" no matter what. the fact that it exists in what has become one of my very favourite formulas in the world is just a bonus.

the thistle flower itself is a surprisingly bold purple. i say "surprisingly" because scotland isn't exactly going to rival fiji for its bold natural colour palette. indeed, as comedian craig ferguson has noted, in scotland, damp is a colour. everything about the landscape is muted and misty and the chief reason that the thistle was selected as the national flower, adorning everything from military honours to football jerseys, was probably because it was the only thing that stood out on the bloody landscape.

however, bite haven't chosen to reproduce the colour of the... er... petals [?] of the thistle in their lipstick. instead, i'd say that the colour captures the beauteous spirit of scotland, infused with a bit of the purple thistle, but encircled with a rainbow of glorious damp. it's a neutral, but in no way the sort of fleshy tone that might be inferred by the term "neutral". indeed, if your flesh is the colour of this lipstick, i'd suggest seeking medical assistance. it's about halfway between the notoriously difficult to define shades of taupe and mauve, meaning that it has elements of earthy brown and cool purple, but tempered with a lot of grey.

thistle
thistle

one of the stories about how the thistle came to be scotland's national flower says that the norse king haakon [no detail as to which one] tried to invade scotland, but that his plans were foiled when one of his soldiers trod on a thistle and the sleeping scottish guards were alerted to the intruders. interestingly, as i've noted before in a post about my genealogical research, the scottish part of my ancestry was more than likely the invader in that scenario than the fortunate guard [and it would surprise no one to know that a relative of mine clumsily stepped on something]. thus it is appropriate that this lipstick, much though its connections with scottishness might seem a perfect match, is one that falls absolutely outside the range of colour i can comfortably wear.

thistle
"thistle" is a shade that's meant for people with sci/art true summer and soft summer complexions. my own bright season colouring isn't at all suited to its subdued, mysterious beauty. and, like a typical scot, i will say that i do na giv' a toss what anyone thinks, because this shade is such a wonderfully original, subtly thrilling colour that i'll wear it even with the stubbornness and pride that are my genetic heritage.

indeed, even among my unwieldy large lipstick collection, i could find very little that resembled this highland gem. mac's daring "viva glam rihanna 2" is darker, browner, more shimmery... basically, i just pulled this one because i thought it had a similar taupe quality, but they're not that close at all.

l to r :: thistle, mac viva glam rihanna 2 [l.e.]

so how poorly matched is it to my complexion? here's a look at it in use alongside and orange sweater that's also too muted and a deep teal eyeliner [urban decay 'invasion'] that should really be the property of autumn-season women only.




i don't care. this is a magnificent lipstick, that fulfills all of the high expectations that the formula has set for itself. it's a unique shade that, while it might not be what you'd call universal, can fit in a lot of situations without seeming garish or risky. i shall persist in wearing it and, if you're at all intrigued by the powers of oatcakes and damp, you should give it a try as well. if you are one of those lucky lasses, scot or not, who looks her best in cool, muted shades, those ones that everyone always seems to have trouble describing, you need to rush out to the moors of sephora and snag this flower for yourself. [it's a permanent addition to the line, though, so no need to shove, lass.]

21 November 2016

originals

i'm going to blame this one on the #nameapencemusical trend that was going around on twitter earlier [i am sticking with my first choice "white side story"], but somehow, i ended up watching a bunch of clips from cabaret on youtube. cabaret is my favourite musical ever, not just because i have the same fascination with weimar germany that everyone with my slightly dark tastes seems to have, but because i'm kind of amazed that the film of it got made when it did. people whose lives had been directly shaped by the second world war were very much alive. homosexuality was still considered a mental disorder. abortion was illegal. but somehow, producers were persuaded to take a racy broadway play that included references to bisexuality and abortion, set in the "good old days" in germany before the war, that was based on an unsuccessful film of a moderately well-received novel by christopher isherwood and put it in the hands of bob fosse, whose previous cinematic effort, sweet charity, had been a critical and box office disaster. it's one of those situations where you know that what's about to happen is going in the history books for either bad or good reasons.

cabaret went into the history books for all good reasons: it carted off an arseload of oscars [mere weeks after the supreme court passed judgment on the roe vs wade case], including ones for fosse as best director, liza minelli as best actress and joel grey, whose wordless performance netted him an award for best supporting actor.

while i don't want to give out spoilers, i'll put it out there that a film about libertine sexuality set in the last days of the weimar republic as the nazis rose to power is not exactly going to be the sort of musical that you watch with the family. [note :: unless you're my family. this film served as my introduction to bisexuality, abortion and cabaret-style performances, because my upbringing was super-efficient that way.] rather, it's a bleak look at a fractured period of history, the intermission between the two world wars, when people wanted to believe [but didn't really] that the horror of the first was over and never to be repeated.

the play was revived in 1993 in london by director sam mendes [american beauty, jarhead], and his version was brought back to broadway to become one of the most successful revivals of all time. i hadn't seen any clips from the revival show until last night, when i stumbled over them, the way that one does, on youtube. and, although it had been a while since i saw the film, i couldn't help but think that the later performances of sally bowles, nightclub performer and unlikely heroine, seemed a little different than what i'd remembered. things change, of course, every actor would play a role slightly differently, but in this case, there was a clear demarcation between minnelli and all the others.

[ok, seriously, if spoilers are a problem for you, stop here.]

the title song of cabaret comes as sally has decided to leave behind the dream of domestic bliss offered by her american lover, and return to the seedy glory of the kitkat club. the choice, of course, is also to stay in germany and face the coming storm rather than escape to the comparative safety of paris. it's an emotional moment for her, with the loss of a relationship, and the knowledge that something bad is closing in on her and her friends at the club. nonetheless, the show must go on and, in the minnelli performance we see a young woman who is rallying the outcasts at the club to live as if there's no tomorrow [while we shudder at the irony].



in the 1993 revival in london saw the role played by jane horrocks, fresh off the success of the first series of absolutely fabulous, where she played bubble, the dimwitted assistant of wannabe p.r. magnate edina monsoon. you can definitely see some of horrocks' natural inclination to make things comedic and zany, which is fine, but doesn't it seem like there's an extra effort being made to slow down and annunciate the lyrics, just to make sure that we don't miss the significance of the words?



when the mendes version of the play was brought back to new york five years later, the late natasha richardson starred as sally. her tense, jittery, wild-eyed performance is closer to gloria swanson in sunset boulevard than to minnelli in cabaret.



the revival was itself revived in london and then again on broadway in 2014 and this time, both michelle williams and emma stone took a turn as sally and both of them push the performance even further into drama: there is no missing the anguish in the central character's voice and face and there is no way that rendition of the song was making anyone in that club feel like they were escaping the ugliness of the world.

michelle williams ::



emma stone ::



so what gives? how and why did sally become such a downer?

well, you could say that a film performance is always going to be far more naturalistic than a stage performance, so you can't compare them directly. but that's only a matter of the gestures and expressions, not the voice. closing one's eyes during the different renditions of the track doesn't change the progression of the performance. it starts off sounding like a typical 30s-era song and ends up full-on les misérables.

although technology and people sneaking cellphones into things they shouldn't allows us to see these clips in isolation, most people seeing and hearing these performances would presumably have seen the two hours of film or play that proceed them. audiences are aware that sally bowles, in a combination of strength and self-destructiveness, has walked away from the man she loves. we know that the characters in and around the club are aware of the creeping spectre of nazi violence and hatred. why do we now need to see and hear her pain pushing through her tough exterior with greater and greater force every time the show is resurrected?

dom and i [and most of our friends] bitch a lot about how the subtlety has gone out of performance arts in general, and how that's become a self-fulfilling prophecy. indeed, the staging of the 1993 london revival, which has become the template for everything since, ends with the remaining cast at the club stripping and retreating as the primary nazi character in the story casually destroys the club set, and, as the club patrons and performers press into a huddled pile of naked bodies, the sound of gas being released fills the room. so it's not just the one song where the import of what we're seeing is being hammered home with a lot more force.

people assume that fosse's vagueness at certain points of cabaret were instances of self-censorship forced on him by the standards of the time. but when the film was released, it was initially given an 'x' rating in both the united states and the united kingdom, and producers had to fight to get it reduced to 'adults only' just so that it could be shown in regular theatres. if fosse was really concerned about how people were going to react, he would have edited a lot more than he did. he was vague in a few parts because he knew that sometimes it's more powerful not to say or show something explicitly. he knew the audience would get it anyway.

audience at a berlin nightclub, 1924
in the intervening forty-five years, it seems like directors and actors have become a lot less confident in their audience's ability to pick up on things. so now, if you're not going to say it outright, you better be certain you communicate it pretty clearly in other means. if people don't pick up the hint, it's the director's fault, not theirs. so, yes, they want to make sure that they take pains to show us that sally isn't as happy about going back to her old life as she might have seemed in 1972.

but i think that there's more at work here than that. i feel like we, as an audience, don't just need to be reassured that sally bowles isn't just hurting because she feels she's been forced to choose between her independence and the man she loves, or because she knows that the rising popularity and power of the nazis is an ill omen for all of them. we need to be reassured that she knows that the nazis are the nazis. we need to know that the fear that she is feeling is the fear of someone who knows that they are witnessing the rise of the darkest political force ever. but that's a ridiculous idea, because, much though the nazi party was criticized and ridiculed, and though certain factions of the party were associated with violent and thuggish behaviour, people in 1931 germany didn't think that they would literally start shipping off jews, gypsies, queers, the disabled and others to prison camps and then packing them into ovens. if you'd said that to anyone at the time, they would have thought you were a loon. which is not to say that hitler's populist rhetoric and contempt for all those groups wasn't known, but there's a big difference between knowing he had said that the jews had sold germany out in the great war and that they represented a continued threat to german safety as long as they remained in the country, and knowing that means that his government are going to act on those beliefs by murdering millions of people.

we want to believe that people knew that what was happening in 1930s germany was different than anything else. because if no one knew that things were that bad, if they were living in the kingdom of the devil himself and they thought this was normal, that means that anyone could be hitler, or at least anyone could be like hitler, and we wouldn't know until things had gotten so out of control that they couldn't possibly be walked back. we need to know that the nazis were special, and that, if anyone like that came around, we'd be able to spot them a mile off, because they'd look exactly the same.

jean ross
we like to think that, because it's comforting to believe that people were fooled by hitler and his nazis [actually, a rather derisive term used to describe them because of it's similarity both to the party's name and to 'ignaz', a nickname kind of like 'bubba' and generally applied to the same sort of people in the south of germany as 'bubba' is to people in the south of the united states]. either they were one of his ravenous supporters, or they just didn't spot the violence simmering under the surface of his campaign. but the fact is that there were lots of critics pointing these things out. it's just that the people to whom his message was most resonant- poor southerners, labourers in the north who had lost their jobs and educated people from smaller cities who'd been knocked from the middle class by the waves of economic crises that hit the country after the end of the great war- they were prepared to give him a pass on some of his views, because those weren't of primary importance to them. and hitler's attacks were directed primarily against groups that a lot of people in a lot of countries disliked, sometimes to the point of violence.

there was a real life sally bowles, a young englishwoman from a privileged background who'd chosen to embrace the seamy world of the berlin nightlife as a performer and  a participant. her name was jean ross and when writer christopher isherwood first sought to have his short story "sally bowles" [later included in his episodic novel goodbye to berlin] published, the resemblance was so obvious that his editor told him to get ross's permission to print the story, so that she couldn't sue them. ross happened to be on vacation in england when hitler came to power, and she was aware enough of what he represented to know that she was better off not going back. [her story is pretty fascinating all the way through.]

ross never went to see a performance of the play that was made from goodbye to berlin, or of cabaret. she died in 1973, so she never could have seen the revival shows. i think it would be fascinating to know which one seemed most authentic to her: the stubbornly cheerful person determined to enjoy every moment life gives her, or the one trying to distract herself from the profound evil that is imposing itself ever more upon her. but maybe i'm missing the point. whether she felt defiant or terrified, neither jean ross nor any of her friends could be certain how bad things would get as they sang and drank and danced in the berlin nightclubs. that's something they would only be able to know when the music was over.

p.s. :: the image at the top is a poster by polish artist wiktor gorka. a cold war-era polish artists interpreting an american filmmaker's interpretation of a british writer's experience of the end of weimar-era germany. 

19 November 2016

in peril

i've posted before about my language learning adventures, and my ongoing quest to learn every single syllable in every single language before i die. but every day, i am faced with a horrible thought: not only is my goal facile and ridiculous, but it's also quite likely that a lot of the languages in the world today will die before i do. i already did a post with nifty charts showing the staggering linguistic diversity of the world compared to the paltry number that the vast majority of us actually speak. in that post, i touched upon how standardisation has eliminated most of the variants of "big" languages like french, and how some have been brought back from the dead. this time around, i thought i'd look at some of those languages that are clinging to life by their proverbial fingernails, or at least that are facing some stormy seas ahead.

before i get to my list, i should direct you to a somewhat larger list. that's a list of 180 countries that currently have languages that fall in the spectrum from vulnerable to functionally extinct. there are just under two hundred independent countries in the world [the exact number depends on whom you ask], which means that almost all of them have at least one language that's not likely to make it through the coming linguistic pruning.

[note :: i've tried to keep my little list clearly in the camp of "languages" and not "dialects", although this is a grey area. some of the languages listed below already have dialects that have gone extinct.]

language :: ainu
home base :: hokkaido, japan
status :: nearly extinct
this sucks because :: well, ainu is a language isolate, and as a rule, it's not good to lose things when there's only one of them left. and these people have been in the area for about twenty thousand years. to put that in perspective, the entire indo-european language family is about six thousand years old. being the generation that kills off something that's survived that long seems like a really lousy way to get in the history books.
outlook :: very bad. despite some efforts to revive it, chances are that ainu will become confined to history books in the very near future. that said, efforts at reviving a language don't stop at death, as anyone who speaks a celtic language can tell you. the question is, will there be enough interest in ainu to keep pushing the revival? celtic languages were resurrected or brought back from the brink because of the ungodly large community of people with celtic roots around the world. ainu has no such community. here's hoping.
learn it!

language :: sentinel [sentilenese]
home base :: north sentinel island, part of the andaman and nicobar islands, india
status :: vulnerable. or critically endangered. it's a good question, really.
this sucks because :: we know absolutely nothing about it. linguists think it's related to the ongan branch of the andamanese language group. but that's no more than a guess, because people just do not go to north sentinel island. while india owns the territory, they abandoned attempts to contact the 300 or so people there two decades ago, because the sentinelese have a tendency to welcome people who approach their island by throwing javelins at them. so now india just leaves them alone and arrests anyone who gets within three miles of the island, which sounds harsh until you consider what the natives would do to them.
outlook :: these people have been defending themselves and their language for 60,000 years. nearly a quarter of a million people were killed in the 2004 indian ocean tsunami, an event which endangered some languages in and of itself. the sentinelese and their mysterious language weathered the storm just fine, as far as anyone can tell. we should just let them keep doing that, even if it means we never get to hear their voices for ourselves.
learn it! lol. right. you'd have to find it first. that's a link to a group that's preserving the andamanese languages as a whole, even the largest of which is endangered.

language :: abenaki
home base :: quebec, nova scotia and new brunswick in canada, vermont and maine in the united states
status :: depending on the dialect, threatened [mi'kmaq], endangered [maliseet- passamaquoddy], critically endangered [western abenaki] or extinct [penobscot]
this sucks because :: the families of the abenaki branch of the algonkian language family were the languages spoken by the first natives to encounter european settlers in north america.
outlook :: again, it depends on the dialect. with 8,000 speakers, mi'kmaq has the greatest shot at survival. but, western abenaki, with as few as five [elderly] fluent speakers left, may well see its final thanksgiving this week.
learn it! [mi'kmaq] [maliseet- passamaquoddy] [western abenaki]

language :: romani
home base :: europe, especially eastern europe
status :: at risk [as a group]
this sucks because :: it's the only language from the "indo" part of the indo-european family to have had a foothold in europe for hundreds of years. it's survived as a language despite constant persecution of romani people. it has a lot to teach us about how languages adapt.
outlook :: for the language as a whole, pretty decent. there are more than five million speakers and centuries of isolation have made the romani pretty protective of their language and culture. except... it's difficult to say with any certainty if there even is a romani language. there are four major dialects of romani, each of which have between three and fourteen sub-dialects. three of those sub-dialects have between three and five sub-sub-dialects. there are also more than a dozen "para-romani" languages, which are ones that combine features of romany with another language, but are distinct from either.  combine that diversity with the fact that romani is primarily used for speaking not writing, and you have some difficult questions. how many of those dialects can die before the structure of the whole is compromised?
learn it!

language :: belarusian
home base :: belarus [also has official language status in poland]
status :: vulnerable
this sucks because :: it should be completely impossible that a language can be threatened in the country that it's named for, when more than 85% of that country's ten million citizens claim it as their mother tongue. how does that happen? well, it turns out that the 85% figure is misleading. because, while it might be their mother tongue, it's not the language most belarusians are using to communicate. only about 10% say they use it in their daily lives, while the overwhelming majority speak russian. it's not even clear if a majority of belarusians are fully literate in the language, either, since most speak and read it, but far fewer can write it. there is no belarusian-language university and in 2010, only about a thousand university students received any instruction in belarusian at all.
outlook :: surprisingly dicey. there are rumours of a belarusian renaissance taking hold in minsk, but that might be an uphill battle. for starters, russian is extremely easy for belarusians to pick up. slavic languages aren't tremendously distant from one another, and the eastern slavic group- russian, ukrainian and belarusian- are close enough that a speaker of one can generally read and understand something in either of the other two. but one of those three is the native language of a world power with 150 million native speakers. and, unlike ukraine, belarus hasn't had a contentious relationship with their giant neighbour. while ukraine, the caucasus and the baltic states were fighting in the streets to break free of the soviet grip in the early nineties, belarus voted overwhelmingly to remain. belarusian is very far from extinction, but it is on a peculiarly self-destructive path for such a vital language.
learn it!

so there's a brief look at a few cases of languages that are fighting for their lives. there are thousands more. i've included learning links, and i highly encourage you to consider a small or threatened language if you're looking for a challenge. [here are some reasons.] no, these aren't languages that are likely to come in useful at work or make you a hero in day to day life, but those practical rewards are nothing compared to the look on some jerk's face when you curse them out in maliseet.         

14 November 2016

mental health mondays :: parabnormal?

for north america and parts of europe, halloween marked the apex of spooky events, where the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was at its most diaphanous. but if you're a very traditional roman catholic, you'll know that the 31 of october is merely the beginning, and that the entire month that follows is dedicated to remembering and praying for the dead, specifically for those whose souls are trapped in purgatory. if you listen to dante, purgatory isn't especially pleasant. sure, there's the possibility that you'll end up working off your debt to celestial society, but until then, you get to endure things like having your goddamned eyes sewn shut with iron wire. [much like condo developments, it gets better the higher the floor you live on.]

however, the more common view of purgatory among catholics is that the souls relegated there can't do anything to help themselves, and are reliant on the prayers of their living relatives and loved ones to allow them to enter the kingdom of heaven. therefore, november, the "month of the dead" is dedicated to making sure your dearly departed level up in the afterlife.

that intense focus on the dead and the idea of the structured afterlife can seem like madness to non-believers, but those who are invested in their faith don't see it that way. and truthfully, a lot of the somewhat less than faithful don't see it that way either. it's just that they strip away the hierarchical aspect and characterize their relationships with the dead as two-way affairs- between them and entities we call ghosts.

do you believe in them? if so, you're not alone, not by a long shot: 75% of americans and 52% of britons [and way more in asia] agree with you. and yet, as with those devout souls who will be pushing prayer-quarters into the slot machine of the afterlife this month, it seems a bit ridiculous: disembodied people rustling around in our space, knocking things over or sucking all the heat or light out of a specific space?

while psychologists- including freud and jung- have been fascinated with ideas of the uncanny, most practitioners in the field who do not specifically choose to focus on parapsychology or anomalistic psychology fall into the category of skeptics. and they have many reasons for believing that, yes, the monsters are all in our heads.

for starters, the assignment of responsibility for things that we do not understand to unseen figures or spirits has been a persistent feature in all human cultures for as far back as we have records. that glowing disc in the sky we see every night was the domain of the gods for millennia before we visited and saw for certain that it was just a very pretty rock. we construct a spirit world to impose order on the things we can't understand, meaning that, on some very basic level, the paranormal is just the gap between what we see and what we know.

and that sort of order can be a lot more comforting than what seems rational. it is a lot more comforting to believe we communicate with gods than to think that our brain function is so compromised that we have no idea what is happening to us. likewise, it is more comforting to think that loved ones we have lost continue to exist in some form than to grapple with the concept of non-existence. the world can be a terrifying, dangerous, deceptive space, so what is the benefit of trying to confront every single painful aspect of it? most of us have our horror plates overflowing already, thanks.

but there are other, even more mundane explanations for why some people truly believe in the reality of ghosts. for one thing, we're very dishonest with ourselves about the frequency of hallucinations. psychiatrists now believe that hallucinations are part of everyone's day-to-day reality [see the linked post for a bit more about that]. we reach for the explanation of the paranormal when we find ourselves unable to put those "little" hallucinations in context. if we can't write it off as meaning our senses are smarter than others, or as something we must have imagined, we have to point to an outside force because the alternative would be to admit that we're having very vivid hallucinations. but if we were being honest with ourselves, we'd admit that it's something that everyone goes through and that it only becomes a problem when it gets too intense or too frequent.

instances of paranormal activity, then, could simply be hallucinations that we want to deny.

or, they could be about other things we want to deny. various sorts of disorders emerge when we try to process events that are beyond our threshold of tolerance; mental illness is very often caused by the suppression of trauma, especially at a young age. so feeling an acute link to the paranormal could be something along the same continuum as an intense fear of social interaction, or having the "blank" periods known as fugues.

others point out that feelings of the paranormal can be induced through brain surgery. i don't want to think about how they figured that one out.

probably like this.

but perhaps most importantly is that people believe in ghosts and the paranormal because other people believe in them. there seems to be a high predisposition among people who hear about others seeing [or hearing, or sensing] ghosts to agree with them. we are social animals who have always relied on the word of others to keep ourselves and the members of our "tribe" safe and informed. we believe people not because we are gullible, but because it's how we survived for hundreds of thousands of years. sure, we're much better informed and much more nefarious now, but that doesn't change the fact that we're still hardwired to think that others are trying to do what they feel is best for the group.

believing in ghosts comes from the same place as any other faith: a litany of explanations and proofs cannot possibly assail it, because evidence is not just unnecessary but antithetical to its existence. that means that i can come up with as many reasonable explanations of how your brain is playing tricks on itself, but if you're a believer, and especially if you've had an experience that felt uncanny, i'm not going to disabuse you of your convictions. hell, i'm not even convinced i can disabuse myself of those convictions, and i believe with all my heart that i'm wrong.

that's right. the draw to the paranormal, and even specifically to ghosts, is so powerful that i can't even quash my own feelings that i've had such experiences. so yes, even those among us who believe that rationality can rule the world still can't get our heads entirely out of the crazy. we are hardwired to deceive ourselves, and we're hardwired to believe ourselves. we're perverse little monkeys. 

12 November 2016

making faces :: meet the vice squad

i'm completely bowled over at the idea that there's a new collection of lipsticks with one hundred and twenty shades to it. how is someone even supposed to wrap their head around that? or their wallet? i don't feel like urban decay has intrigued me with a new launch. i feel like they've assaulted me and stolen my purse.

so perhaps that's why it's taken me a while to get to reviewing something from the line. hell, it took me a while to even figure out what to buy from this line, because the choice seemed so overwhelming. when nars launched their audacious lipstick line two years ago, i was unsure of how to pick that first colour from a batch of thirty. somehow, i was supposed to choose between a hundred colours [at sephora] in six different finishes. i'm a libra, for crying out loud. decision making is not my strong point.

i worked around this problem by going into sephora a few months ago [yes, i am really, really behind in my reviews] about five minutes before closing time. i swatched a whole bunch of colours on my hand and, as the associates were about to drag me screaming from the store, i grabbed one that looked particularly nice: after dark.

it's described as a medium-dark berry pink, which is pretty accurate, although it's the sort of description that could apply to lots and lots of lipsticks. nonetheless, it is a more interesting shade, because it leans red rather than purple. most deeper berry shades go the other way.

after dark

it's not as red as a shade like rouge d'armani 402 [discontinued from the version you see here, but i believe it's been reborn in the revamped line] or bite "sugared maple", but it's closer to that than to a shade like "jilted" [which is included in the new line as well].

l to r :: bite sugared maple [l.e.], after dark, rouge d'armani 402

as i mentioned, there are six finishes that urban decay have introduced in their new "vice" lipstick line:

high shine [semi-sheer]
shimmer [semi-sheer with lots of sparkle]
metallic [semi-opaque with metallic shimmer]
satin [opaque with muted sheen]
comfort matte [soft, mostly matte]
mega-matte [intense, flat matte]

[note :: sephora groups the comfort mattes and the mega-mattes together, although it distinguishes between them in the shade descriptions.]

"after dark" is one of the comfort matte lipsticks, which is supposed to be equivalent to the "matte revolution" formula [see my review of "blackmail" here]. i'd actually planned to get one of the satin colours, but "after dark" seemed like it was the best colour of the ones i tried on my hand.

the formula is certainly among the nicer mattes that i've tried. it has a very silky, lightweight feel that applies very smoothly and evenly in a single pass. i found it a bit drying over time, but not nearly so much as "blackmail" it did, however, emphasise the lines in my lips and made my mouth look a little pinched, which is something i've observed in matte formulas before. the wear time was average, which is a tradeoff one gets for a matte that doesn't brutalise your lips.

the standard revolution formula, which is now the satin vice formula, was far superior in my opinion. but for the curved shape of the bullet, which made precise application a chore, it was well nigh on perfect. however, the colour selection was rather limited and mostly dupe-able. while i haven't tried the satin formula on my lips, the new one doesn't seem as rich or saturated, and based on the performance of the comfort matte, i don't imagine that it will be as long-lasting.

at $21cad, the vice lipsticks are a fair bit cheaper than the revolution ones that preceded them. they're also smaller, so i'm not quite sure how they compare by weight, but i suspect that makeup fiends like me take a very long time to get to the bottom of a tube no matter what the size.

here's a look at a full face of makeup [shades from the naked 3 palette], to give you an idea of how it looks at a regular distance.




i get the allure of launching a new lipstick line. urban decay needed something to get their edge back, so that they didn't just become the naked company, but the number of shades here seems like overkill, and the fact is that they had a really nice formula with the revolution lipsticks. they might have just introduced a lot of new shades there.

price-wise, they now fall below the regular nars lipsticks and bite beauty, and slightly below anastasia and makeup forever, who seem like more natural competitors for them. i'd also say that the quality of the vice lipsticks falls in that range, while the revolution formula was more along the lines of what bite offers.

i'm still curious to try more of these- particularly the satin and semi-sheer formulas- but i don't put it at the top of my list. my initial impression is that the huge collection of colours and finishes gives a lot of dazzle, but that the overall quality has shuffled back a few steps. 

11 November 2016

let's get this over with


ok. i have to face this before it makes me crazy.

you know what this is. it's the post-election wrap up. i planned on doing this post as a critique of the some of the past policies of the first woman president of the united states and how i thought those who had supported her with a somewhat suspicious eye could stay vigilant to hold her to the positions she'd espoused during the election.

unlike mrs. clinton, i didn't have a backup piece writen in case of emergency.

what the hell happened?

well, obviously, donald trump won. so the greater questions are how and why this happened. i don't know much about the hearts of trump voters. i know a couple of people [through facebook] who supported him, or at least had no problem with him being elected, so i hear what they're saying, but i can't speak for the population in general, except to look at statistics.

  • white college-educated women, who usually vote republican out of economic self-interest, moved slightly towards the democrats, but not by much. certainly, it was far less than expected. so white, college-educated voters still voted in the majority for trump. 
  • white non-college educated voters supported trump overwhelmingly, which was expected, but also turned out in huge numbers compared to other groups.  
  • hillary won the latino vote 65%-27%, and garnered 88% of the black vote, which sounds like a huge victory until you realise that's a substantially lower percentage of both than president obama got in either of his elections. indeed, her numbers among both groups sat around the same levels as those of john kerry in 2004. 
  • turnout was just over 54% of registered voters. 


so what can we draw from those points? well, the turnout of non-college educated whites suggests that trump's message of anger and indignation touched a nerve, which we knew. their desperation at being abandoned by both parties led them to him, but it also led them to return the republicans to power in both houses of congress. considering that they are the party that has been in power for the last two years, the party that drafted the nafta bill [although bill clinton signed it] that trump blames for the collapse of the manufacturing centre, the party that started the ruinous war in iraq [although hillary clinton initially supported it] that ballooned the debt to historic levels, and the party that deregulated the financial industry and allowed them to implode the economy... well, to give them the balance of power again is both perverse and sad. but it also points to the fact that the trend that has emerged of voters sticking with one party all the way down the ballot continues. voters are one or the other, and are voting for the party, not the person.

second is that the economic self-interest of middle and upper class whites runs extremely deep. the desire for lower taxes trumps [sorry for that pun] other interests. ironically, those votes came because those people believe that trump's economic plan will protect their status. for his base, he is the candidate of change. for the broader, richer public, he is the status quo.

clearly, the argument by both candidates that this was the most important election of their lifetime had no resonance. with nearly half the people choosing to stay at home, the message is clear: millions of americans didn't give a shit about which one of them came out on top. or who carried either house of congress. or, for that matter, who controls the supreme court, since appointing a tie-breaking justice will be one of the first orders of business for the new president. despite clinton's case that trump/ pence would send the u.s. back to the dark ages by clawing back gay rights, access to abortion, public health care, and would sell the country out to the russians and provoke war with iran; and despite trump's case that clinton/ pence would sell america out to whomever offered financial favours to the clinton's personally, that hillary would allow terrorists and criminals to enter the country by the millions, and leave embroil the country forever in an ineptly managed war in the middle east; despite either of those dramatic-sounding positions, the reaction of almost half the population was "yeah, whatever".

the thing that most disturbs me most, though, is that the vote splits among women, latinos and blacks indicate that donald trump's inflammatory rhetoric during the campaign meant absolutely nothing. he called mexicans murderers and rapists. he sympathized with the police forces who were targeted for criticism by black lives matter activists and condemned by the department of justice, and promised to strengthen them. he proposed banning muslims from entering the country and blamed them for the homophobic rampage of the shooter in orlando during the campaign. he threatened to crack down on freedom of the press. he said he would use the power of the attorney general to crack down on his enemies. he dismissed his bragging about sexually assaulting women as "locker room talk". he barreled his way through the campaign telling outrageous lies without apology and insulting all who opposed him in the most infantile fashion. he is about to go on trial for fraud and soon he will have to appear in court on charges of raping a thirteen year old girl.

and the numbers say that nobody really cared.

[note :: i'm not including "people really hate hillary clinton" as a factor, although it's an issue. i understand the reasons for hating her hawkish foreign policy, although it's ridiculous to assume that trump will be any better. i understand the profound mistrust of the mess she made of her emails, although no one bothered to mention the 22 million that the bush/ cheney administration flushed. and i understand the anger around the embassy attack at benghazi, a result of attacks on libya that she supported, although it was the republican congress that voted down the increased funding that could have been used to fortify the embassy. and although no one raised an eyebrow, much less a commission, about any of the embassy attacks that occurred under george w. bush [which killed far more than four people]. and i certainly understand why people would criticize her decision to vote for the iraq war, although no one criticized mike pence for doing the same. i'm a little less understanding of the hysteria surrounding the clinton foundation, which an independent watchdog rated as an "a" in terms of their work and transparency, especially since the trump foundation was ordered to stop collecting funds during the course of the campaign, and a washington post reporter called more than four hundred charities without finding one that had received a donation from trump's organization. the short answer is: i get all the criticisms of clinton, and they're totally valid. i just don't know why they're not levelled at others.]

i've found myself literally traumatised by this election. it's ridiculous, i know, because i don't even live there. my own prime minister announced that canada is waiving the visa requirement for mexican visitors effective at the beginning of next month. while trump and clinton were arguing whether 10,000 or 65,000 refugees was a "safe" number to let in, canada is aiming to accept 250,000 as soon as possible. prime minister trudeau went to the airport to greet the first to arrive himself. suddenly, my country is a shining beacon of rationality and democracy. but i'm messed up.

the spectre of trump and his electoral promises hangs over me throughout the day. i've dipped into my stash of additional medication, those things my doctors always insisted i keep on hand when the panic gets out of control. despite my undisputed status as a news and political junkie, i've been unable to turn on the news networks- unable to turn on the television, in fact- since tuesday night. i've read bits of both candidate's speeches, but i'm unable to stomach more than a few lines at a time, because i feel sick. i don't think i'll ever be able to handle watching the videos. i have to force myself to pay attention to other things so that i don't think about this and everything it means all the time, and i'm not terribly successful at it. i feel as if something horrible has happened. something unspeakable.

i've likened the feeling to how i imagine the people who lived in jeffrey dahmer's apartment building must have felt when they learned who he really was. that's not to say that trump supporters are cannibalistic serial killers- not at all. but that there is that same sense that the hateful and often violent rhetoric that trump employed throughout his campaign [with far more specificity than he gave to any of his positive plans to "make america great again"] was welcomed or at least acceptable to almost one out of every two voters, many of whom seem like nice people. how do you trust your instincts about people when you know that kind of feeling lurks inside them, just waiting for someone to tell them that it's ok to let it out?

at the top of this blog post is the nine of swords tarot card. although the major arcana cards of death or the tower are more feared, many scholars of the tarot feel that the nadir of the deck is the nine of swords. the death card represents the death of old ideas and places [real or psychological] that have been kept beyond their purpose- it is those things, and not the querent, that needs to die. the querent emerges from the process- which can be acutely painful- reborn. the tower, with its explosive energy signifies the violent breakdown of the things the querent considers safe, the very structure of their lives. but in its wake [and depending on the cards around it in a reading], is the opportunity to rebuild. the shock is profound, but not deadly.

the nine of swords, on the other hand, shows a figure alone, in the night, anguished but held in place but the swords around her. there is no escape route shown in the room. there is no way for her to move to rebuild.

that's where my mind is now. because i don't believe that this is any sort of grassroots revolution. all the same people are still in congress. justice antonin scalia, an unapologetic homophobe stuck to his own rigid ideas of what the founding fathers meant when they wrote the constitution [chief among them that they believed it was to be permanent and unchangeable], will be replaced by a person who shares his views- trump has promised it. trump's logic is no different than that of the republicans who've held power and shut down government when they didn't like what was being said. the powers that be just have a much louder, more vulgar [in all the senses of the word] mouthpiece. what's happened is a trap.

although i've been unable to face the prospect of writing this post for a couple of days, i believe it's made me feel a little better. i've had a lot to say in this election cycle, as i always do, and at some point, i'll return to my inborn political junkie ways. but i don't think i'll talk about america for a while. because, critical though i've been, it's always been based on the fact that i see a potential in the country that exists almost nowhere else. now, i feel that might have been optimistic, like the greatness in america is be suffocated by anger, ignorance and defensive tribalism. i don't believe donald trump can make america great again, but for the first time, i question if america can make herself great again.

for the good people who are there, i wish you nothing but the best and i hope that my feelings are wrong. if they aren't, i promise never to say 'i told you so'. if they are, i promise to admit it.

thanks for reading.

08 November 2016

making faces :: this one's for you, america

yes, today i did a special "american election look", something i hope i don't regret later on...

first up, there's the obligatory red, white and blue.


that's a bright, bold red because what is america if not bold and brash? [guerlain rouge parade]


and that's some white, which is for the stars in your flag, but also for the suffragettes who fought for women's right to vote a hundred years ago. but there's black too, because black lives matter and the experience of blacks in america is an intrinsic part of who america is. [skirt annie thompson]


and some blue in both the camisole and the earrings [although i grant that the earrings don't really register. it's a dark blue, because let's face it: you know i'm hoping that's what your electoral map is going to look like tomorrow. [earrings joe fresh, camisole h+m]

but that's not all there is...




that's a nice helping of purple, in honour of all those purple states that are going to be deciding this election. [nars demon lover]


some flat, comfortable shoes for standing in line at the voting locations, or for marching on washington if these numbskulls don't work hard enough at making things better. [shoes john fluevog]



and finally, yes, that is a rosary slung round my erstwhile agnostic neck, because tonight requires a couple of prayers, and because i think that the pope has had some very insightful comments about americans' tendency to pick and choose parts of the bible that inform their faith. 

but there's more to it than that: i bought that rosary at the cathedral of notre dame de paris. france, like you guys, adopted the red, white and blue as their colours, just a few years after your revolution. and they assigned meanings to those colours: white for the clergy, blue for the bourgeoisie, red for the nobility, because everyone was supposed to work together. but the three colours have also become associated with the three objectives of their revolution: liberty, equality, fraternity. ["equality", by the way, meant equality of opportunity, not of result.] that spirit of togetherness had some rough times, to the point where different factions would just claim their own part of it and fly flags of one of the three colours, but never the other two. the flag, and the country, got torn apart and put back together for some time. 

after today's exercise in electoral liberty, which is the one truly equal process in a modern democracy- one person, one vote- things will change. it's impossible not to notice that things in america have become heated and angry and divided, but here's hoping that, in the wake of what's been an ugly, dispiriting and downright frightening campaign, you can all pull together in that spirit of fraternity the french were so big on. 

07 November 2016

mental health mondays :: we're all crazy now

you're not imagining it: the election is making you crazy. well, not crazy, but according to a study by the american psychological association, the rush to the whitehouse is causing significant levels of stress among the people who are most affected by it [that would be americans, and possibly one canadian blogger who thinks about these things way too much]. and i get that. there are several factors that have contributed to making this election the most stressful thing to happen in politics since the cold war days. nor is it just about the candidates or the struggle in america, but about the country's position in the world. normally, many of us picture americans as more or less immune to what people think of them, but a recent nbc poll revealed that a shocking number- 62%- felt that this election had made them less proud to be an american. no election should ever be an embarrassment.

there are lots of theories about why the election is so particularly stressful. its domination of the news and of social media is chief among them: it has become very difficult to get away from the election while still maintaining a connection with other human beings. the election has invaded everyone's lives and homes, imposed itself on every safe, private space that citizens have tried to construct, so that it's always just there, jabbing at you. as someone who's suffered some pretty acute panic attacks, i know how that feels. a negative thought gets in and starts spinning around, like having two bars of a song stuck in there, the same two bars, for hours. it's in your brain and you can neither stop it nor diminish its presence. it's just this noise that's constantly there, running the psychological show.

another thing is the relentless negativity of every aspect of this campaign. being exposed to negativity absolutely affects our mood, making us both stressed and depressed, either amping our emotions up or deadening them just in order to help us deal with what we're experiencing. other than the early stages of the democratic campaign, which seemed civil and respectful until bernie sanders started to actually string wins together, everything in the last year's political spectacle has been brutal, violent and degrading, no matter which side you're supporting. donald trump eviscerating his republican opposition by calling them names, shouting over them and offering a bullhorn to the anger of poor white america. hillary clinton and the democratic national committee conspiring against bernie sanders, while at the same time desperately trying to court the voters following his movement. ugly, ugly, ugly.

and what's worse, that's all there's been. the entire trump vs. clinton campaign has been nothing but two people bellowing nothing at each other. both have financial plans for improving the country, but those plans just barely qualify as position papers. the only real attention any of their policies have gotten has been the debate over raising or lowering taxes and on whom. while talk of syria and isis has been oozed through the entire campaign, neither candidate has said anything of use on the subject. clinton has said that she wants to establish a no-fly zone over syria to keep refugees safe, which sounds reasonable until you think about what happens when someone violates it. are you going to blow those planes out of the sky? russian planes, perhaps? good luck with that. trump, on the other hand, has offered sweet fuck all, saying that he has a great plan, but that he doesn't want to risk tipping the enemy off as to what it might be. other than that, he's spent his time crapping on every other plan, suggestion or move. he's also shown a lack of knowledge that is flat out dangerous, claiming that isis capturing syria would give iran control over a huge area of western asia. iran is in no way aligned with or even sympathetic to isis and isis hate the shi'ite iranians more than anybody. five years ago, american politicians were referring to syria as a client state of iran [utter bullshit, but all those people have been silenced by trump].

meanwhile, people in the united states are suffering and afraid. they're terrified of being attacked by terrorists, which is greatly exaggerated by both politicians and the media, but they're legitimately scared of losing their homes and security to another financial collapse, because explaining why the damn thing happened to begin with has become a political tug of war. more regulations to keep these people in line! less regulation so they can create jobs! then they turn around and discover their bank is charging them for a bunch of services they never even authorised, which is the sort of thing that bears a mention in an electoral campaign. they're confused, now that realise how concentrated wealth in the country is and how great the disparity is, and no one is trying to explain how to improve that situation. everyone keeps talking about how social security is going to collapse as the giant generation of baby boomers start to retire [spoken about as if it's a problem of the future- many baby boomers are on the cusp of their seventies], but there's very little explanation of how the problem has occurred and what the different plans are to fix it. for that matter, no one is talking [because no presidential candidate ever talks about] how much the president can actually do, versus what congress can do, versus what's the responsibility of the state. [slight caveat: there was one republican town hall event where john kasich addressed this, and very cogently described what he thought he could do to influence things as president, while making it clear that the problem was not within his presidential jurisdiction.]

so voters have been subjected to people blaring criticisms of the other, with precious little else. the result? both have been pretty successful. most people are just angry, because they've been provoked for months, because they've been unable to get quiet, personal time, because no one is talking about things that they actually care about, and because they're being made even more afraid that one candidate or both is going to start a world war iii, either out of overweening hawkishness or blundering stupidity. people who feel like they've been denied a voice, and who feel as if their concerns have fallen on deaf ears for many years are being stifled again, as they're forced to mediate an argument between two people they don't like very much.

and finally despite being reassured that their vote matters [which it does, it's their opinions that don't], americans don't feel empowered to do anything to spur change. their congress- the people's goddamned employees- shut down the government, let it get to the point of not being able to issue cheques, and everyone is supposed to just accept that. again, studies of workplace environments show that empowerment has a direct correlation with happiness and satisfaction. so that feeling of being frozen out after you've voted? yes, that is most definitely making you worse.

but it's all going to be over tomorrow, right? lol. just kidding. after tomorrow, those people don't need you anymore, and things go back to the way they were. or another civil war breaks out. or something else happens. in the meantime, i have a few [hopefully] helpful suggestions for dealing with election and post-election fatigue:

1. knowledge is power, therefore knowledge is empowering. take any time you can get and try to familiarise yourself with what people are saying about issues. also, take time to acquaint yourself with the rules of how things get done.

2. make smaller problems. there is only one body that can deal with very large problems all at once and it's the supreme court. everything else has to be handled bit by bit. so pick a few bits, things that could really help. make noise about them. chase after local and state politicians, because those guys can't hide from you.

3. be a boss. a tough boss keeps track of what they're employees are doing and you are the boss. everything in the news will tell you what the president and congress are doing broadly, but that's one of those "big problems". track your congressman. find out how he or she votes. find out how often find out what they say. use the time that you'd otherwise spend listening to all the hot air blowing from washington. members of congress face election every two years. that's nothing and they know it. so, talk about what they're doing. say it online if you want, but also talk to friends and family and whoever you feel comfortable talking to about things. sure, on the high levels, your individual opinion doesn't really count [sorry], but from congress on down, those people are yours.

4. tell the parties to go fuck themselves. aside from the fact that it's going to feel very good, refusing to give a cent of your money to either of them is a very good way to get through. you know all those stories about how some congressmen miss half the votes, or how they don't read pieces of legislation they do vote on? they look like morons. but you might cut some corners too if you were being forced to work in a telemarketing job rather than doing the work you signed up for. don't reward this sort of disgusting behaviour. talk to your guy if they call, but when the plea for money comes, tell them you want them in the house, doing their job. hell, ask to speak to the person in charge of the phone bank. tell them what a horrible system this is. they called you, it's not like you're imposing this on them.

i can't make things better for you, nor can i make things better for your country, but i want to help. and by help, i mean stop that screeching wheel that's going around in your head, quite literally making you sick.

last time around, i told you not to "eat the septic tank". this time, i feel more sympathetic. you're battered and anxious and depressed and what happens tomorrow isn't going to fix that. but you do have the power. voting is a power, but you have so much more than that. so deal with tomorrow like you would getting an unpleasant inoculation. then look forward to dedicating just a bit of your time to the satisfaction of kicking their asses, because if you kick it hard enough, they'll feel it everywhere.   

03 November 2016

worldwide wednesdays :: who goes there? [part 2]

vietnam
so, earlier we dealt with the great mysteries of our planet: the oceans and antarctica. while those two are definitely the most likely places to belch forth something that will kill us all, it might surprise you to know that there is plenty of stuff on the places we've actually mapped that's still pretty much unknown.

how can it be, i hear you say, that we've been able to create maps of a place, but we don't even know what's in it? in an age where we can all see our homes on google earth and try to moon the satellites to see if we'll end up in street view [just me?], how can it possibly be that there are quadrants of this earth that remain unknown? and to that i say: you have perfectly valid questions.

here's the thing: there is a huge difference between knowing that something is there and knowing what that something is. i know that there are sewers in montreal, but they could be awash in a river of ecstasy and pansies for all know, because i've never been in them. likewise, there are places on earth that we know are there, because there are images of them, but the images are all that instructive on what's going on.

one persistent rumour is that the places we've never truly explored are filled with basically all the magic in the world. and there are good reasons to think that might be the case, considering the stuff that exists around the places we don't know. but again, we don't know them. they could be home to a race of giant marshmallow people and we wouldn't be any the wiser.

there are many reasons why we've never gotten around to checking out these places. first of all, they're inaccessible. second of all, they're dangerous. third [and worst] of all, we just don't think that we'd get anything of value, so we don't bother. there's a mix of these factors at work in all these exotic locations [and the "danger" element takes a few different forms], so chances are that we aren't going to get a chance to look around them any time soon. and what's truly disgusting is that we may destroy them before we explore them. because those are our fucked up priorities.

so, here is a not-exhaustive, but hopefully interesting synopsis of places we know fuck all about that are in the middle of the 30% of the planet we can actually walk on.

papua new guinea
papua new guinea

how is it that a country that inhabits half an island can be so unknown? well, for starters, it's physically hard to get into. there's little infrastructure to speak of, because the national government isn't interested in getting more people in there to begin with. the tease is that the country is already stuffed with flora, fauna and cultures that exist nowhere else in the world. there are also persistent, but unfounded, rumours of cannibalism among the more elusive tribes, which can put a damper on travel plans.

every time someone pushes a little further into the unknown, they come back with evidence of new species of animals [like poisonous birds] and plants, the likes of which exist nowhere else on the planet. there are 800-odd languages unlike anything on earth and many which have never been committed to writing.

what has preserved png is the fact that its dense brush and fierce natives have yet to demonstrate that they have anything of value to outsiders [or at least, anything that can be extracted in bulk]. as a result, the pressure to strip or drill the unknown region to death hasn't swept over the country like a storm cloud. that said, nothing will completely stop people from looking, and there is currently a push on to do some exploratory mining for metals and minerals in the mysterious star mountains.

northern mountains, colombia

colombia
this one is heartbreaking.

the mountains of northern colombia aren't actually that difficult to get to. yes, it's a wild and unstructured environment, but people have gone there and come back with evidence of new flora and fauna [it's one of the few places on land where evidence of decent-sized fauna has been discovered in recent times- several bird species]. the climate, with temperatures between 16 and 23 celsius throughout the year, is quite pleasant, compared with many other hard-to-reach places. naturalists would love a chance to get up there and explore in more detail, but there's just one problem: colombia has been mired in a civil war for over fifty years, and the mountains have been a preferred retreat for the anti-government rebels. even the most accessible place seems a lot less enthralling when there's bullets flying and hostages being taken.

everyone's heart lifted a little when, just a few months ago, the president of colombia and the leader of the farc rebels negotiated a peace agreement, so that the country could finally move forward. colombian prime minister won the nobel peace prize for his efforts to put an end to the fighting. and then, out of nowhere, the deal collapsed when it was rejected by a narrow margin in a national referendum.

gggggaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh.

greenland
there is an undocumented crucible of plant and animal life that interested people just can't get to without risk of ending up as the proverbial 'innocent bystander'. and the thing about civil wars is, they don't tend to factor the risk to delicate, unique ecosystems into their plans. [oh, and it's having tremendous problems adjusting to climate change. because things weren't bad enough.]

the greenland ice sheet

greenland is to the northern hemisphere what antarctica is to the south. yes, the antarctic is larger, but that doesn't stop greenland from offering some pretty remarkable treasures. of course, the trade-off is that you have to be able to trek off into a cold wasteland, where no one can hear you scream. more accessible [insofar as such terms apply] is the greenland ice sheet, a place which is exactly what its name would lead you to believe it is.

the official website of all things greenland describes the ice sheet as one of the island's greatest attractions, although it does warn that you need both a strong constitution and a government permit if you're planning on checking it out.

the ice sheet has been unpopulated, as far as anyone can tell, since the last ice age, the people of greenland wanting to stick near the coastal regions in order to have access to things like food and materials for building shelter. it may never have been populated, because whatever was happening earlier is buried under three kilometres of ice. and while visitors can make their way out for a look-see, it remains pretty mysterious for the simple fact that it's uninhabitable. it's accessible only through a single dirt track, and while you can fly over it, it's too dangerous to land.

greenland as a whole remains a pretty unknown quantity, as we've discussed before. as recently as 1999, cartographers realised there were several islands near its coast that they'd never noticed before [buster bluth was right!], and more recently, scientists have found strange ice sculptures the size of skyscrapers underneath the surface and a type of shark that appears to live for hundreds of years.

but once again, the ice sheet is being destroyed faster than we can discover it, as it continues to melt at an alarming rate.

namibia
namib desert

it's not the biggest or the hottest, but it is one of the very oldest [possibly the oldest] deserts on earth, and a home to surprising biodiversity found nowhere else. that's saying something, because it's also one of the driest regions on earth, and usually a lack of water = a lack of life. indeed, it does lack human life. namibia, home to most of the desert, has the lowest population density in all of africa.

in addition to biodiversity, the desert also has pretty remarkable features like 300m sand dunes, sparkling crystal formations and probably lots more that we don't know about because huge sections of it are unexplored. as in, people don't set foot in them.

even the parts that are accessible can be pretty intimidating: the temperatures can swing from 0 celsius to 60, and the lack of landmarks makes wandering off-road without a knowledgable guide a death wish.

although the area is still threatened, it's in better shape than other places on this list. it's less likely to be pillaged for its resources, less likely to be flattened for development [although mining is a potential threat], its dryness give it some defence against rising tides caused by climate change. but most important, namibia is the first country ever to enshrine the protection of the environment, wildlife and natural resources in its constitution. go namibia.

hang son doong cave

just looking at photos of this makes me feel weak. a local discovered the entrance to the cave in 1991, but it was a group of british "cavers" who first took a detailed look inside [missing the days of exploring and conquering, i suppose]. and what an inside it is

vietnam
the cave is so tall it could accommodate a 40-story building. it has its own jungle, its own climate, clouds of mist, a bustling river and ornate columns worn out of limestone. even now, knowledge of the cave is extremely limited, because explorers haven't been able to examine the network of 150 other caves that are connected to the nearly 10km main main, so most of those remain unexplored. a small city full of unique life and we barely even knew it was there until seven years ago.

the cave may have lucked out, being discovered in an age where conservation is a bigger issue than it once was. access to it is strictly controlled by the government and requires their official permission. about 500 permits a year are given out, and there does not seem to be any major interest on the part of the vietnamese to see that increase. instead, they've taken a slow approach both to tourism and to exploration; the cave has survived everything else thus far and they don't want to be the thing that ends such an impressive run.

i could go on [as you know]. seriously, what i've done here is just pick examples of four different types of places that are still unknown to us. the amazon rainforest, biodiversity's poster child for upwards of thirty years, is still a mystery. people who know stuff estimate that 50% of the planets plant life is in there, and more than a dozen tribes of human beings who've had no contact with the outside world, but for all we know it could be a water park masked by cleverly placed overhead canopy.

think the mountains of colombia are fascinating? gangkhar pensum is over 7 500m and no one has ever made it to the top. and, if the bhutanese government holds firm, no one ever will. they banned climbing mountains over 6 000m out of respect for their religious significance. although china disputes that the mountain is completely in bhutan [it's on the border with tibet], reaching the summit pretty much requires entering bhutan. at least, that's what people think.

if you like the cold, but greenland doesn't quite ring your bell, you could explore kamchatka, whose mysterious allure is a combination of its remoteness, its cold war history, and the fact that, amidst the siberian tundra and brown bears, there are three hundred volcanoes, many of them active, including one that's been belching up smoke on a regular basis for twenty years. wanna visit? you need to charter a helicopter even to get to the capital city. then you get to find roads that will allow you to explore the countryside.

if you think hang son doong is impressive, keep in mind that 90% of the world's caves are unexplored.

so, in answer to my own question: yes, there are surprisingly huge swathes of the planet on dry[ish] land about which we know next to nothing. now we just need to make sure we don't kill them before we have the chance to get to see them. 
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