01 October 2014

world wide wednesdays :: the "arab world"

last week, i was discussing events in the middle east with a friend, particularly the emergence of the islamic state group and the threat they posed to the remaining secular governments of the arab world. syria, while it was clearly always a predominantly islamic country [by population], had been one of those and i mentioned turkey as another. my friend immediately responded "i don't mean to be pedantic but turks are not arabs".

i hate that sort of thing. not what he said, of course, but the fact that i know perfectly well that turks are not arabs, but i made the same sort of lazy geographical association for which i'm forever criticising others. i did make some feeble attempt to re-establish my credentials as someone who had something worthwhile to contribute to a discussion on middle eastern politics, but this is the sort of slip that eats away at my conscience during those long hours of insomnia. my tail hasn't emerged from between my legs since.

however, the exchange and my mistake did lead me to reflect on what we call the "arab world" and i've come to the conclusion that there's something wrong with almost every definition and the things that are wrong with it are very telling indeed. so for today's world wide wednesday feature, i thought it was worth taking a quick look at the various ways in which the term "arab world" is used.

old time religion

whether they want to admit it or not, when most north americans refer to the arab world, they are referring to the parts of the world where islam is the dominant religion. that includes lazy sods like me who know better but do it anyway. this is probably the worst use of the term, because it's so patently, ridiculously wrong.

bahareh hedayat :: not arab
with 1.6 billion followers world wide and a growth rate that exceeds all other major religions, islam is way too big to be confined to one area of the globe. however, if you want to get picky and say that the arab world is the part of the world that has the most muslims, you'd be talking about southeast asia.

with over 200 million adherents of islam, indonesia is the country with the most muslims, followed by pakistan, india and bangladesh. southeast asia has about three times the number of muslims of any other area of the world.

yes, i hear you say, but there are way more people in southeast asia than there are in other areas of the world, so it makes more sense to look at the countries where the greatest percentage of the population follows islam. that's not an unreasonable argument, i'd say and then i'd point out that you're talking about morocco.

fully 99.9% of the population of morocco is muslim, narrowly edging out tunisia with 99.8%. if it makes you feel any better, afghanistan is also 99.8% muslim and iran is 99.7%. but it shouldn't make you feel better, because you'd be hard-pressed to find an arab in either of those countries. in iran, arabs make up about 2% of the population. afghanistan doesn't even count them as a separate group, so any arabs living there are lumped in with "4% other" and they're probably not even a significant portion of that. iran is majority persian, while afghanistan has a plurality of pashtun and evidence indicates that both of those groups are more closely related to europeans than they are closer relatives of modern-day europeans than ethnic arabs. [side note: some anthropologists believe that the pashtun people may actually be descended from one of the mysterious lost tribes of israel. this was a legend in the oral tradition and it continues to garner some academic support into this century.]

now that we've started to talk about arab ethnicity, it's time we move on to the next way of defining the "arab world".

the amazing race

hamid karzai :: not arab
unpacking what is meant by the arab race is a genealogical nightmare. there are basically two things you learn when you start to look into it:

1. the term "arab" was invented by people to describe another group of people, which is always a terrible way to start thinking about a population. [side note: the term "arab" simply meant the people who lived on the arabian peninsula, who were a startlingly diverse group at the time. when muslims from north africa swooped in between the 17th and 13th century, the largely semitic peoples who had lived there [and were termed arab, at least by others] were displaced and their territory claimed by the invaders, meaning that the modern arab race is descended from people who came after the original arabs, to whom they are genetically unrelated. so-called "pure" arabs still exist. they're called qahtinites and they live mostly in yemen. i hope you're remembering all this.]

2. the term really hasn't gotten a lot more useful over time. its polyglot nature is about as useful as identifying people by what continent they live on [like i did earlier by saying "north americans"!]. it's the broadest possible generality.

i would try to explain this further, but it's entirely possible that my brain would explode. there is some logic to grouping arabs as a race- they are related to each other. but that's using a very, very big family tree. functionally, there are hundreds of arab subgroups and, because that's not confusing enough, there are people of many other ethnicities with long roots in the same geographical region. [side note: ethnic arabs have one of the highest rates of genetically transmitted disorders in the world, including ones that appear to affect no other races. there is an organisation in dubai dedicated to study this phenomena.]

but people have kept right on using the term "arab", because it's convenient, and eventually someone just decided to say "fuck it" and started using the term to refer to countries that use arabic languages.

speaking in tongues

the arabic language is part of an umbrella group called the afro-asiatic which, as you clever folk have probably figured out, is something like indo-european in scope. arabic is part of the semitic group of languages, which makes it reasonably closely related to hebrew, syriac and some of the languages of ethiopia and more distantly related to other african languages like somali and egyptian coptic. it's closest relative is... wait for it... maltese.

cenk uygur :: not arab
grouping people by their language isn't the worst idea anyone's ever had. but would it surprise you to know that this case is particularly complicated? i didn't think so.

first of all, for confusion's sake, arabic is the language of the qu'ran, which just adds to the confusion about the whole arab vs muslim distinction. but since we already know they're not the same, we can move on to the other reasons it's complicated.

arabic exists in a state called diglossia, which means that its written and spoken forms are different. there are several languages with the same distinction and in nearly every case, there is a certain level of political tension underlying the split. furthermore, spoken arabic is split into dozens of dialects and many of them are unintelligible to one another. in the interests of political unity, many arabs will tell you they all speak the same language, but there's a decent chance that another group of arabs, from another part of the world, wouldn't know what they were saying. so talking about countries where arabic is the predominant language is like talking about countries that speak romance languages. sure, they're related, but that doesn't make them homogenous. [although the written language thing helps push the argument along.]

as you may have gleaned, though, from that previous paragraph, there is sometimes a sense that arabs want to feel unified by their language, even though that might not be easy. and this brings us to what's possibly the "right" answer, or at least the one that's easiest to live with.

so political

without knowing it, when most people refer to the "arab world" what they mean is really the arab league. the arab league was founded in 1945 in order to foster a sense of unity and offer mutual support between arab-speaking countries. today, it has 21 members, including countries from the middle east [as far east as iraq] and northern and eastern africa. or it has 22. syria was a founding member, but is currently suspended because of acts of government repression during their civil war.

marrakech, morocco :: almost entirely arab
the list of countries who participate in the arab league is largely similar to the list of countries where arabic is the predominant language, although not exact. somalia's population is only about 45% arab speaking, but it is part of the league. djibouti and comoros are both members, but have only tiny arab minorities. oh, and just to fuck with your head, qatar, bahrain and the united arab emirates are all only about half arab by total population because of the massive numbers of foreign workers in those countries [although most non-arabs are not citizens]. oh and venezuela and brazil are official observers.

despite some slightly confusing bits [really, were you expecting any different?] i say that this is closest to a "correct" answer because it's the one way in which arab people have actually defined themselves. the arab league is a pan-national, pan-ethnic group which was founded with the aim of having arab states support each others' economic growth, defend each other militarily if necessary and to foster a sense of unity through cultural events and exchange. in that sense, the league has a role similar to the european union.


that folks, is about as far as i can take you in the examination of what is meant by the "arab world". i'm very aware of the irony that a term that has been around for centuries seems to have acquired a workable definition a little less than seventy years ago, but really, i think that it's just further evidence that it's a term to be used with the utmost caution. and never use it to refer to iran or turkey.

30 September 2014

making faces :: berry picking

leaves are turning! gusts of chill air are arriving! evening is longer than daytime! i get excited just typing those things. it helps that, compared to last year, the first part of autumn as been glorious. the temperature has been slowly creeping downward [although we did have a shocking run of heat last week], making it comfortable to wear light layers during the day and a jacket at night. my toes are getting ready to hibernate in boots and my lips are lusting after delicious berries and plums like at no other time of the year.

i always love a deep lip, from classically sophisticated to outright vamp and i'll wear them pretty much any time i want, but there is something to the pairing of such shades with the golden autumn light, just as bold, juicy shades come into their own on the most brilliant summer days. as a result, when this time of year rolls around, i'm magnetically drawn to try any new lipstick that has "berry" in its name or description, the fuller and richer the coverage the better.

you might recall that earlier this year, i finally got around to trying givenchy's le rouge formula for the first time. i'd passed on the opportunity to try them earlier, because none of the colours seemed unique, but having tried one, i knew i was going to keep my eye out for more. i got lucky in that they added more new shades, including one promisingly named "framboise velours", which translates to "raspberry velvet". that sounds like so many thrilling things- an edwardian gown, a quietly deadly cocktail and, yes, a kick-ass lipstick colour.

29 September 2014

mental health mondays :: all hail the magic beans!

several sources have alerted me to the fact that today is national coffee day. [although really, since it appears to be national coffee day in both the u.s. and canada, i'd say that it's properly international coffee day.] so what better way to mark this glorious day than to have a look at how the best beverage ever in the history of the world connects to our psychological well-being?

you might think that this link is a bit tenuous. after all, coffee drinkers are forever portrayed as tense, angry, tightly would and moody, all of which are pretty seriously bad signs when it comes to mental health. but the fact is that the vast majority of north americans drink coffee and the vast majority are not high strung stereotypes with a throbbing nerve in their neck. in fact, they might be a little better off than the rest of us.

now, as far as i'm concerned, coffee is great for health in general because drinking it probably stops me from going on killing sprees. i don't even try to hide the fact that it is an addiction, not just a charming habit. trust me, caffeine withdrawal happens quickly when you haven't had your fix and it can put you in some serious pain. but as addictions go, it's on the milder side and there's little evidence to suggest that caffeine can cause problems, although it can certainly make existing problems [e.g. high blood pressure] worse.

but now, there is research to suggest that coffee might be beneficial for mental health. it turns out that coffee, unlike a lot of drugs, can cross the blood-brain barrier, which is like your own internal great wall designed to keep certain things out of the command centre. we consume coffee because caffeine inhibits a neurotransmitter in the brain that makes us feel fatigued, but while it's there, caffeine also tinkers with other neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, both of which are understood to affect mood. [note: the linked article says that the serotonin theory of depression has been debunked. i wouldn't go so far, but it is something that has been addressed in a previous mhm instalment.]

of course, coffee isn't a problem free beverage, since caffeine has been recognised in the latest iteration of the big book of crazy [the dsm-v] as causing mental disorders. since it is a drug, and an addictive one at that, it stands to reason that sudden withdrawal will have an affect on the brain. but what we're learning now is that there may be no reason for most people to stop their caffeine intake [or, if you're consuming four cups a day or less, even to reduce it] and there may be benefits to adding one little vice to your life. shall we toast with a lovely mug of jamaican blue mountain?

note: that wonderful image at the top of this post is an actual thing. you can own it for a cheap $10usd! available from the always enchanting think geek. [non-affiliate link.] 

also, we'd like to send out a big mental health mondays happy birthday to arsenal player per mertesacker. the man affectionately nicknamed the "big fucking german" [he stands six foot six] was apparently deeply affected by the suicide of german national teammate robert enke in 2009 and has shown his respects by organising charity events to raise money and awareness for those dealing with depression. mental illness is even more stigmatised in the hypermasculine world of sport than it is in general, so it's great to see a high-profile athlete [part of this year's world cup winning squad!] speaking out.

p.s. :: i also realise that's the second time in a week i've mentioned an arsenal player. i'm not getting paid for that either.

28 September 2014

the user's guide to more like space

since the blog now has its own spiffy facebook page and a number of new followers and because traffic on the blog this month has shown a steady increase, i figured now might be as good a time as any to give a little primer for those who might not be familiar with things here...


to start with, you can look at the about me page, which gives you an idea of what i'm doing, but which is kind of out of date now that i look at it. what you need to know about this blog is that if you like one particular aspect of it, there's a good chance that other parts won't be so interesting. in defiance of logic and popular wisdom, i just write about whatever is on my mind and that means that there isn't really a theme here other than "hey, look at the inside of my brain!"

that said, i do try to be good about tagging posts and when there is a large group of posts that fall under one theme, i usually create a category for it. so here's a little primer on what you can find.

first of all, there are several tabs at the top of the page. those are updated whenever i post something that fits those parameters. for the most part, these permanent pages contain links to my various creative projects. that includes my short stories, attempts at poetry and my photography and video art. there are also links at the right side of the page which go to sites where you can support me and my arty projects by buying books or movies [well, a movie]. since i'm not placing renting out the blog to advertisers, your support is appreciated. [you can also just make a direct donation through this page.]

now, as far as categories are concerned, here's a brief round-up:

making faces :: i have always had a healthy relationship with cosmetics and beauty products and a few years ago, i decided to start writing about that on the blog. at least once a week, you'll find reviews or experiments i've done on my face or other beauty-related ramblings.

mental health mondays :: i've always been fascinated with the mind and the ways in which it can become disordered, so i decided to dedicate a day to talking about those issues. for a while, i'd abandoned this, because i didn't have the time to research it properly, but it's been revived and i am trying to do a post every single week. 

world wide wednesdays :: this is a brand new feature on the blog [seriously, as of this post there's only been one entry], where i take a lighthearted look at various marginal or at least little-known cultures from around the world. i'm looking forward to doing more of these!

dj kali :: i've had an intimate relationship with what might be called "difficult" music for more than twenty years. i've also insisted on inflicting that music on random passersby whenever i can. i've done some podcast enclosures here [and may yet do more] and i'm always careful to post playlists whenever i do a live set. if you're some kind of glutton for punishment, yes i am available for parties, weddings, bar mitzvahs and funerals. you might want to make sure you understand what you're getting yourself into, though.

cuisine :: i'm no chef, but i do like cooking, so i write about that, too. a lot of times, this is more yammering than recipes, so if you're going to check those posts out, you should be prepared for some conversational banter. [also, every four years i do a massive series of posts called "eat the cup", which involves cooking meals with a world cup theme. i've done it for three successive cups, which actually makes it the longest running series of posts on the web site.]

proud fur-mom :: i describe myself as a crazy cat lady and i wear that label with enthusiasm. [i'm also lucky enough to have connected with that rarest of creatures, the crazy cat man.] i don't have flesh-babies, but i do have five wonderful children- three boys and two girls- who are pretty much the centre of my existence. seriously, if you get me alone at a social event, you can start counting down the moments until i pull out my phone and show you pictures of my totally awesome children.

so political :: i have opinions about politics. lots of them. i define myself as a progressive, or as very liberal [in some cases, i use the terms anarchist and libertarian, but those have connotations that i believe make them confusing] and you can be damn sure that anything i write about politics will reflect that. if that's going to offend you, you might want to avoid my political posts. on the other hand, you might want to engage me in a debate which i totally welcome. regardless, you can expect that i'm going to write a lot about politics in the world.

those are some of the major themes, but there's always more to explore and more things that i have in mind for the future. for a long time, i had a running series called friday favourites. i liked doing it, but it was a surprising amount of work and the posts weren't as popular as others on the site, so i finally abandoned it late last year. that said, i've been trying to think of ways in which it could be revived. any suggestions are welcome.

also, while i went through my adolescence thinking that sports were for the kind of people who liked to beat me and my friends up, i do have to admit that i [and my long-suffering partner] are huge "real" football [or soccer as you may know it] fans and, since the world cup posts have been extremely popular, i'm thinking of ways in which i could incorporate that. as with most things, i'm not adept enough to offer informed commentary, but when has that ever stopped me?

of course, at least half the posts on the blog don't fall into any of those categories, which is where i beg you for patience/ indulgence. maybe you visited here for one thing, but got snared by another. that's awesome. welcome.

i really love getting feedback and try to respond to it whenever i do receive some. if you have suggestions for regular features, feel free to contact me. i'm extremely open-minded.

but most of all, thank you for taking a few minutes from your hectic life to look at these pages. i am humbled by your interest and i hope that i can earn more of it. i may have started this blog for me, but it's no fun without you.

p.s. :: the image above is an illustration of me with the various elements of the blog, including my feline army of the night and neville, who is my insomnia and who is thus responsible for a lot of what you see here.  

p.p.s :: i'm surprised that this blog doesn't yet have a "greenland" tag. i'm strangely obsessed with greenland.

now with facebook realness!

i've heard that all the kids are down with this "facebook page" thing and so, after dithering over it for about a hundred years [i look pretty damn good for my age], i have taken the plunge and set up a facebook fan page for more like space. it'll let you keep track of whatever is happening here without having to leave the comfort of facebook and, even better, it'll allow you to do so without having to send a friend request to me personally, which would involve subjecting yourself to all the things i say that i don't feel should go on a public blog.

everybody wins.

you can trot on over to like more like space by clicking here. you cannot click on the "meh" button yet, no matter how much you might want to.
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