25 April 2015

i have no idea what i'm doing

in the same way that i should be doing to keep my body in shape [but mostly am not], i try to keep my writing muscles in shape by just sitting down and making myself write for a few hours. i can work on one particular thing. i can work on a lot of little things. usually, it's a mix of the two. i've not been very good lately at working on things that i have planned out, things that already have a structure [in my head] and characters and a plot and dialogue. nah, that stuff i just keep putting off, because i have the rest of my life to work on that. i'd much rather distract myself with extremely similar work. [this is why you had a six year hiatus between books, you realise that, right? -ed.]

i often wonder about the line between keeping myself in a creative headspace and just wasting time. i think that we all have a tendency to trick ourselves into thinking we're doing something productive when we're really just dedicating a lot of time to the parts of a job we like rather than tackling more onerous tasks. for instance, i did a quick count and determined that i have written nearly six thousand words on the blog this week. i'm not counting the part of "mental health mondays" that was re-posted- that's just the new stuff i've created in the last seven days. and that's not even taking into account the fact that both "mental health mondays" and "world wide wednesdays" were shorter than average. six thousand words. i'd like to say "hey, it's all writing", but that seems like a lot of effort towards something that can't ever be used in a fiction piece, which is what my, er, "real" writing is supposed to be all about. [nonetheless, i love working on this blog. this is where i go to just play with ideas from the real world and indulge in all the various interests i long to share with people, but usually can't find human beings willing to put up with me in person.]

of course, sometimes, when i'm doing my little writing "heats" at home, i get lucky and something just blossoms from the tower of babble. i've had luck recently raising entire short stories from the muck of my mind just because i started letting my fingers interpret for my brain. that's when i feel like i've accomplished the most. not all of what comes out is good, of course, but some of it is, and even more of it has the potential to be good with a little more loving attention from my more grounded brain.

24 April 2015

paranoid theory of the week :: is ebola really a biological weapon?

welcome to a few feature here on more like space, dedicated to the wonderful world of the paranoid, the sinister and the conspiratorial. although i'm pleased to wallow in my skepticism, i've always been fascinated by alternative theories of history, science and politics. i'm entertained by the sheer lunacy of many of them. i admire the holistic nature of others, where every detail is carefully folded into the master plan, like some kind of universal origami. still others impress me because they actually turn out to be true. so i figure i'll share my love in the name of entertainment and possible education, by breaking down different theories [i don't believe i'll ever run out of material] and evaluating the likelihood that there's anything to them. for the rating system, i'll be using a scale from 0-10, where 0 means a theory has been disproved/ is too batshit insane to consider and 10 means that it's been shown to be true. [i'm going to invoke the legal standard of "reasonable doubt" in those extremes, because i know that there will always be a small number of people who can't be convinced by anyone.]

the theory :: ebola is man-made

the ebola virus is actually a bio-weapon that either escaped or was introduced to humans in the third world. 

the story ::

at this point, what we're seeing is "the ebola conspiracy 2". the first wave came in the 1990s when an outbreak of ebola- technically a family of viruses that cause hemorrhagic fever- in zaire. the virulence of the disease, its staggering fatality rate and the lack of a cure immediately caught people's attention. chronicled in the nonfiction book the hot zone and fictionalized in the film outbreak, ebola seemed to hit everyone's fear triggers.

according to conspiracy proponents, the virus was actually created in a lab. the first wave of ebola conspiracies in the 1990s were split between those who claimed that the virus had been introduced into certain populations of africa [either to suppress local resistance to western domination or just to see what would happen] and those who claimed that american "research centres" [biological weapons development centres] were just sloppy and left the top off the wrong mason jar.

theories related to the more recent outbreak, that started in guinea in 2013 and has killed more than ten thousand to date, are more willing to concede that earlier ebola outbreaks may have been natural, but that the current outbreak is the result of a weaponized version of the virus, because it has been more deadly and more difficult to contain.

the originator ::

this is always hard to pin down, but the most influential of the early theorists is probably dr. leonard horowitz. horowitz alleges that two great scourges of africa- ebola and aids- were both developed in laboratories in the 1960s as potential biological weapons. those who have adopted a conspiratorial view of ebola have generally built on horowitz' work.

however, among the modern conspiracy theorists, none is more important than professor francis boyle. boyle is not some fringe character. he's an expert on biowarfare and international law. he co-authored the biological weapons anti-terrorism act of 1989 and sat on the government committee on bio-technology. he raised the spectre of sinister causes for the 2013 ebola outbreak, saying that he didn't believe the new virus was behaving like the one that he had studied, but rather like a genetically modified variant. he claimed research centres in the third world often concealed weapons development behind the altruistic cover of searching for vaccines to tropical diseases and pointed out that there was one such research centre located in kenema, sierra leone, more or less the centre of the current outbreak.

in addition, there have emerged a whole family of conspiracy strains that link the current ebola epidemic to president barack obama.

the believers ::

trust me, i'm an eye doctor
a surprisingly large number of public figures believe at least some of the current hype. presidential candidate senator rand paul was one of the most visible, insisting that ebola was much more contagious than people were being lead to believe, that the virus had become airborne and that the obama administration was covering this up so that the american people wouldn't realise they were doing a piss-poor job of protecting them. paul, along with a handful of other republicans [phil gingrey, todd rokita, thom tillis, mike huckabee and scott brown, to varying degrees] have alleged some connection between ebola, obama and the mexican border.

but lest you think that this sort of paranoia is exclusively a right wing preoccupation, feminist author naomi wolf has claimed that raising the fear level about ebola is what will eventually provide an excuse for the obama administration to impose martial law. and controversial nation of islam leader louis farrakhan has indicated that he believes ebola is a biological weapon created by the united states to be used against people of colour. 

with the insertion of president obama into the debate, public figures have been a lot more willing to embrace theories about ebola that deviate from the commonly accepted line. conspiracies about ebola were viewed with considerably greater skepticism during its first moment in the media sun twenty years ago.

the bad guys ::

the world health organisation, doctors without borders, pharmaceutical heavyweight sanofi-pasteur [along with their major shareholders the rothschild group and l'oreal], the centre for disease control, tekmira pharmaceuticals [the canadian company that has developed a promising treatment for ebola under contract to the united states department of defense], the governments of canada, the united states, the united kingdom and france.

the evidence ::

science tells us that ebola is a family of five viruses [only four of which are known to cause infection in humans] that were first seen in simultaneous outbreaks in sudan and the democratic republic of congo in 1976. it is thought that the virus appeared first in animals, specifically fruit bats, along with certain species of primates who come in contact with these bats. it spread to humans through the consumption of bushmeat- basically the eating of monkeys and other primates- in rural areas of africa. the only proven way to contract ebola [sorry, senator paul] is through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. the mortality rate is incredibly high, because the virus weakens the organs, massively dehydrates the body, reproduces quickly and has no known treatment. [as a matter of information, it's a myth that ebola is characterised by profuse internal and external bleeding. hemorrhaging can occur, but definitely not in all cases and certainly not as profusely as many westerners have been led to believe.]

because of its extraordinary mortality rate and epidemic nature, there is the impression that ebola kills far more people than it actually does. even in the areas most effected by the disease, you're more likely to die from malaria or diarrhea, to say nothing of strains of influenza, which are far more contagious.

thanks, obama.
as to whether or not it might have been caused, either originally or in its latest manifestation, by a biological weapons experiment gone wrong... well, it's not completely out to lunch. many countries have conducted research on using pathogens as weapons, including anthrax, staphylococcus, hantavirus and botulism. research on biological weapons was officially ended by the two sides in the cold war in 1972 with the biological weapons convention. [president richard nixon had ended research on offensive chemical weapons in 1969 and order the reserves of such weapons destroyed.] the convention did, however, allow the development of certain biologicals, provided they were defensive. that's such a difficult term.

of the diseases investigated as potential weapons by the united states, the one that stands out for our purposes is hantavirus, because it is a variety of hemorrhagic fever-causing virus, like ebola. that doesn't make it the same as ebola, but it at least means that the united states government has admitted that it was at some point researching the possibility of using hemorrhagic fever viruses as weapons. one american worker even died after contracting a south american strain of hemorrhagic fever, machupo virus, on the job. the biopreparat, basically the biological weapons research body in the soviet union, also investigated the weapons potential of margburg virus, allegedly as late as 1992 and head reseracher nikolai ustinov died after accidentally coming in contact with an artificially powerful strain of marburg virus. so, yes, both sides of the cold war do seem to have looked into the possibilities of using ebola-like viruses as weapons and the case of ustinov indicates that at least the soviets may have succeeded in creating a more deadly strain of virus.

officially every country has conducted its biochemical weapons research on its own soil, so stories of covert sites in other countries are unsubstantiated. there is, of course, precedent for skepticism of these claims. so-called "black sites", secret prisons used to facilitate the extra-judicial rendition of suspected terrorists to american facilities, were a conspiracy theory until president george w. bush acknowledged their existence in 2006. let's call the allegation that the united states and/ or the soviet union had or have weapons research facilities in africa "neither proven nor categorically disproved".

as to francis boyle's assertion that the strain of ebola virus seen in the 2013 outbreak is more deadly and more dangerous than earlier strains of the disease... there appears to be some merit to that. the original 1976 outbreak of ebola killed a larger percentage of those infected, but there were a much smaller number of infections and the disease was unknown at the time, so medical staff would not have known how to contain it. the virus specifically responsible for the current outbreak was analyzed by research teams in the united states and sierra leone, who found that there were 341 differences between the new virus and the previously encountered versions of the zaire ebola virus, to which the new one is most closely related. however, researchers have not been able to say definitively whether or not those changes are responsible for the increased mortality rate of the new virus.

the second part of boyle's comments, that the virus showed signs of having been genetically modified, is not possible to verify, viruses morph on their own, all living things do. however, the case of nikolai ustinov shows that at least one facility had succeeded in creating a deadlier strain. there's no reason to think that the changes in the virus' structure is anything more than natural adaptation [341 differences sounds like a lot, but isn't really], but the idea that a higher octane ebola was engineered in a lab isn't beyond the realm of possibility either.

there exists no evidence that weaponized hemorrhagic fever was ever released anywhere except in a couple of lab accidents. there is evidence, lots of basically undisputed evidence, that governments have gotten all stupid when it's come to the handling of biological weapons. the united states dumped arseloads of agent orange in southeast asia without bothering to consider the effects it might have on their own soldiers, much less the people who lived there. later administrations have copped to having used human guinea pigs in ethically questionable research in mkultra and tuskegee. during the second world war, the united kingdom conducted experiments on the scottish island of gruinard that left it so badly contaminated that it was quarantined for fifty years. the soviet union accidentally released smallpox and anthrax to the general population of two separate towns. that's far from an exhaustive list, but i think it's enough to establish that, if someone had developed weaponized ebola, there's no reason to assume that they would have been careful about what they did with it.

of course, there's also the question of why world powers would be interested in researching ebola as a weapon at all. barring laboratory slip-ups, it's not a particularly dangerous epidemic outside regions with poor health care facilities. once identified, countries with modern hospitals and health care networks will isolate patients, which basically stops the progress of the disease in its tracks. the virus isn't particularly robust, so you can't travel easily with it. and finally, it requires exposure to bodily fluids to transmit, which makes it difficult for one infected person to do a lot of damage, even if they start going all zombie apocalypse and chewing on strangers' arms.

one "smoking gun" for conspiracy boosters is that the response to the most recent epidemic of ebola on the part of  the united nations and particularly the world health organization was sluggish. having seen in the mid-nineties that the improper handling of ebola victims by people who didn't know any better made the outbreak worse, it seemed to take health officials an inordinate amount of time to take much notice of what was happening. it's one of those peculiarly ambivalent occurrences that populate many conspiracy theories: it could be evidence of western indifference to problems in africa, or it could be deliberate.

the likelihood :: 3/10

the real problem with the man-made ebola conspiracy theory is that there isn't a lot of compelling evidence in favour of it. the most interesting arguments for a conspiracy are no more than circumstantial. no credible person has come forward to claim that they've witnessed or participated in any covert action related to the spread of ebola. much of the "connected" conspiracy theories- that president obama plans to sneak ebola in over the mexican border, that it will be used as an excuse to impose martial law, that the virus can be contracted other than through exchange of fluids- have no evidence to back them up whatsoever. [i'm basing my evaluation on the central theory only: that ebola is man-made.]

as conspiracies go, however, the idea that a more dangerous form of ebola was released, by accident or by some ill-planned test, as part of military research, isn't the craziest thing you'll ever hear, because there are confirmed cases of similar incidents. at the very least, there is a grain of truth, which is that hemorrhagic fever viruses were studied as potential weapons and that there were at least two deaths as the result of this research.

[the image at the top of this post is the ebola virus, as rendered by the geek geniuses at giant microbes. if you know anyone who's kinda clever and half as interested in plush toys as i am, their products are a guaranteed home run.]

23 April 2015

making faces :: a special one from guerlain

you know you want it
there is no word more likely to inspire ecstatic fits among makeup lovers than "taupe". we are like a nation of pavlovian canines, salivating at the very idea of a shade that defies easy explanation. but it's that difficulty that makes taupe so universally desirable: there's so much variety with in it and so many of them are adaptable to a wide range of skin tones. a couple of brands are coming out with new and reformulated single shadows this year and you can bet that each of them will have their own version of taupe. so i figured i'd start with guerlain, who have just launched their new and improved écrin 1 couleur shadows, and just follow the taupe brick road as far as it leads me. [yves st. laurent have already launched their own new singles, although they've been overshadowed- yuk yuk- by their version of the liquid eye tints. chanel will be revamping their single shadows later in the year.]

the new guerlain shades come in shimmery and matte finishes. the one that i have, "taupe secret" [yes, the names are all puns like that, which just makes me want to buy them that much more] is shimmery, so much so that i was worried about it appearing frosty on my eyes, but it absolutely does not. i've observed myself applying this close up in magnifying mirrors to see if i can figure out how the shade goes from being so incredibly shimmery in the pan and swatched to a subdued glow on the eyelids. it's not necessary that i understand it to enjoy the colour, but it fascinates me nonetheless.

world wide wdenesdays :: cleaning up our room

i've been pleasantly surprised since i started world wide wednesdays that it's become one of the most popular features on the blog. i'm surprised chiefly because most of the posts are long and involved and deal with pretty complex and heady issues [or at least try to deal with them] and it makes me happy to think that there are enough people who are willing to slog through a long piece to get some more information about the place where we live.

of course, i'm not surprised that people are interested in the topics, because earth is a fascinating place. our crazy, troubled, unique history is filled with stories that even the most creative writers would struggle to imagine. i really believe that most of us want to understand why situations are the way that they are and that our minds really aren't satisfied by the limited vision we are given of the world around us because we know, instinctively, that there is more going on than we're being told.

unfortunately, part of figuring out what's going on in in the world today forces us to take into account how we've damaged our home. and we've damaged it a lot. every area of the planet is now showing signs of that damage, and yet we're still forced to waste time debating whether or not climate change even exists. it's a sad state of affairs that's made worse by the public presentation of the issue, which most often frames the debate as having two equal sides. i defer to the brilliant john oliver on this subject:

today is [has been] the forty-fifth annual earth day, a time when we take a moment to think about our planet and its future and how we will shape that future, or simply to take the google quiz to find out what animal we are. i am a mantis shrimp. [thanks to marie for calling my attention to the oatmeal piece!] earth day has become a kind of sombre occasion, one that confronts us with the results of our collective laziness, greed, stubbornness and procrastination. it's depressing, but we've made the mess and now we have to clean it up. my interest today is in closing earth day with a little reminder of why we want to do the work to clean it up.

for starters, i found this graphic [original source here] of some things about earth that are pretty damn amazing already. [please don't quit your job to extract gold from seawater. i've done the math, it doesn't work.]

you'll probably want to zoom in
and here are some photos taken from the earth porn web site to remind us all of just how amazing this place can be and how beautiful it is when we have cleaned up. [thanks to dom, who originally suggested i follow those guys on social media.]

this is the only place in the universe that has cats and owls and elephants and sharks and pythons and capybaras and ladybugs and penguins and, yes, mighty mantis shrimp. but more importantly, it's the only place that has us. it's our home and as much as we like to daydream about what life might be like on other planets, we know that there really is no place like home and that it's where we belong. so we should actively seek out ways in which we can lower our own impact on the environment, we should give power to those who commit to acting in the interests of the planet [we're coming for you, stephen harper] and we should do these things not just because they're "good for us", but because the awesome diversity and beauty of the world enriches our lives and makes us happier people. [or if that isn't motivation enough, behave responsibly or i'll come and strike you with my murderous appendages.]

so happy earth day to all, from more like space, and hopefully many more of them.

20 April 2015

mental health mondays [rewind ++] :: personality disorders, more questions than answers

i got started on a mhm post for this week and, as sometimes happens, realised that i'd bit off a little more than i could chew in a day and a half. hopefully, i'll have that ready for you next week, but in the meantime, i thought i'd return to a subject that's received surprisingly little attention here. [and whose fault is that? -ed.] personality disorders are poorly understood even in terms of mental illness, because they seem to be linked more to learned behaviour than to brain chemistry. that's a grotesque over-simplification, because mood disorders are often treated with the same medications as conditions like depression and anxiety, and type i disorders usually require some type of behavioural therapy in conjunction with medication. plus, of course, that there's nothing saying you can't have both types of disorder going on at the same time. [brains are very evil and nasty things and it kind of sucks that you can't get by without one, although it some people do seem to manage.]

there are a lot of issues surrounding personality disorders, including how they're diagnosed [often quite differently between men and women], the perceived arbitrariness with which they're defined and accepted, the perceived stigmatization of certain character traits and their potential [ab]use in explaining socially unacceptable behaviour. the post below doesn't deal with any of that. it's just a basic introduction to the world of personality disorders, how they're [currently] defined and what makes them different from other types of disorders.

as a brief aside, one of the most controversial subjects associated with personality disorders is that they are often linked to prevailing morals of the time rather than hard science. [although, when it comes to the brain, hard science is a tricky concept in itself.] labeling people as mentally ill because they are different carries some pretty horrifying baggage. nonetheless, one of the things that treating personality disorders does [or is supposed to do] is to liberate the sufferer from the baseless anxieties that can impair their ability to function and feel happy or at ease. so to that end:

is it time to look at extreme examples of racism, sexism or homophobia as anxiety-based personality disorders? 

there's a fair amount to think about there, and i'm capable of playing devil's advocate on either side. i'm putting the question out there in case anyone else has thought about it.

oh, and for those of you who hadn't figured out the answer to last week's brain teaser [or looked it up on line], cheryl's birthday is july 16th. according to the readers of mental health mondays, however [you can see the comments on facebook], the proper answer is "cheryl is a cunt". [those aren't mutually exclusive. -ed.]


original here

much of our conception of mental disorders is wrapped up in the "biggies", things like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder that tend to result in dramatic deviations from "normal" behaviour [even though they sometimes don't] and reasoning. but really, that's just the top layer of the crazy tiramisu. there are many further classifications of thought and mood disorders that don't get spoken about as much, but which may affect far larger numbers of people. they also tend to be more controversial, because they are less evident. someone who refuses to eat and bathe or speaks to people who aren't there or who cuts themselves because they believe that they have bugs living under their skin is obviously in need of help. someone who is prone to wild exaggeration or who thinks only of themselves often seems more in need of a boot to the head. ultimately, the fear is that behaviour which is merely odd or eccentric can be labeled as disordered thought, which obviously raises a lot of questions about the limits of individuality. i'm not going to get into the arguments for and against, that's for another day [and should probably involve a lot more voices besides mine]. this is just a quick introduction.

generally speaking, personality disorders are a group of symptoms established over the long term in an adult personality that affects or compromises an individual's thought patterns and interactions with and beliefs about the outside world. so what the hell does that mean?


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