08 February 2016

mental health mondays :: schizopanacea?

last week, while i was stuffing my face with pierogi [monday night has seemingly become pierogi night at our house] and watching electoral returns, i had not one but several people call my attention to one of the 'trending' pieces of news on facebook: major new research had been published that pointed to a new theory as to the cause of schizophrenia.

clearly, that's pretty exciting, because schizophrenia is like the shit cadillac of mental disorders. it's the one most likely to land you in a hospital or in prison. it's the one most likely to wreak havoc with your life. and it's the one that's hardest to treat, because all we've learned about it over decades of studying is that we know nothing about it. in fact, it wasn't so long ago that we posted a piece here on mental health mondays that looked at numerous possible explanations for what schizophrenia is and how it develops. what emerged in the last ten days is just one more of those theories, which is not to deride it, but to state the truth: being new might be exciting, but that doesn't guarantee that it's a breakthrough. determining that takes time.

you can read the research for yourself right here, in the magazine in which it was originally published. since it's in a scientific journal, much of the writing is technical, but it boils down to the fact that our own brains may be unwittingly responsible for making us schizophrenic. one of the many, many hobbies that your brain has is gardening. it prunes itself of synapses that it isn't using so that everything stays nice and orderly. as we pass from adolescence into adulthood, it engages in quite a substantial trim and the research that was just released indicates that it may end up eradicating certain synapses that it needs to protect itself from malfunctioning. afterwards, things get unbalanced and signalling starts to go awry, which we experience as the positive and negative symptoms of schizophrenia.

in its favour, this new theory has a number of positives:


  • it's scientific. that may sound ridiculously obvious, but you'd be surprised how many theories about disease we continue to entertain with no scientific background.
  • it's huge. there were 64,000 people from 22 countries involved in this study, half of whom were schizophrenic. the chances of the findings being anomalous are minimal. 
  • part of it is well-established. we've known for years that schizophrenics have a reduced number of synapses in the brain, but the link between this observation and the condition was unclear. 
  • the "pruning" of synapses does roughly coordinate with the most common age for the onset of schizophrenia, implying a possible causal link [but not proving it]
  • the pruning function appears to be unique to humans, which might explain why we're the only animals who develop schizophrenia


the bad news is that now we have to do more research. and most of that research won't be in order to build on what's just been released, but to repeat it. that's because the single thing that separates good from bad science is that, when you use the same conditions, you can produce the same results. so even if this science is golden, it will probably be many years before we find a drug that will address the concern. until that time, we're likely stuck with more or less what we have now: drugs that address the symptoms but not the disease. [which means technically that we treat schizophrenia in the exact same manner that we treat a head cold.]

i feel like i'm the bearer of bad tidings here, but i'd prefer to be thought of as the great manager of expectations. this research is a big deal, but it's principally important to the work of other researchers, at least for the time being. if we want to see results that stem from this work, we need to make sure that governments and private corporations are funding further research along these lines. that's the tricky bit. 

07 February 2016

success is fleeting

i hope that you all enjoyed our little sojourn in iowa and its ethanol-producing corn fields, folks, because now, we're moving on to harder stuff: the granite state. having duked it out late into the night [well, on one side, at least], candidates vying for the two plum presidential nominations for this fall's election have shaken off their wounds [theoretically] and regrouped in order to fight again on tuesday.

compared to the iowa caucus, the new hampshire primary looks like a much more settled affair. there is a very clear frontrunner for both parties and we can expect that both of those men will be giving victory speeches relatively early tuesday night. not saying that things can't change, just saying they'd have to change a lot.

as you've been able to tell, i've been paying closer attention to the republican side of things than the democratic side. that's not indicative of who i'm supporting [as if that weren't obvious enough] or because the democratic race isn't interesting [it is, but almost more for what it points to in the future of the democratic party and in america than for what it is going to accomplish in this election cycle]. the thing is, the republican race is hilarious and there are all sorts of places you can go for serious political commentary. [occasionally you can come here, but i'm much more prone to embracing the hilarity.]

coming out of iowa, national republican frontrunner donald trump had to choke down a hefty slice of humble pie, having been bested at the polls by a man who he insists isn't even american. [nice try, donald, but you elected it, you bought it. we are not accepting any returns north of the 49th parallel.] but the real story going into last night's in-between-the-voting debate was that marco rubio had not only surged into third place, but had nearly overtaken trump in second. the momentum was all his to lose. and boy, did he lose it. [sorry. should've given a spoiler alert.]

here's my [alphabetical] take on last night's proceedings ::

jeb! bush :: so close, jeb! so close. you finally landed a genuine hit against your bête noire trump, nailing him for trying to use the legal provision of 'eminent domain' [basically 'we're the government and we need you land now, kthxbye'] to try to evict an elderly woman from her home so that he could secure the land to build a parking lot for his atlantic city casino. for a party always leery of government overreach, it was a savvy shot to take. however, when he went back to his taunting ways, you fluffed what should have been your best line- "how tough do you have to be to evict an old lady?"- leaving the media to fill in the blank you left when you jumped ship mid-sentence. then you fell back into old patterns, getting mauled by the donald by seeming oblivious to the fact that much of the work on the keystone pipeline was to be done by private industry. seriously, how could you not know that? is it possible that w is the smarter brother??

ben carson :: you distinguished yourself from the beginning by not seeming to recognise your own name. once you did meander onto the stage, you joked that you hoped that the other candidates would continue to mention you, so that you were able to get more time on the mic. then i think you fell through a hole in the floor. true, you were momentarily visible when you went head to head with ted cruz about his campaign's attempt to convince voters that you had dropped out of the race. commentators afterward said you looked very angry, but i would more describe it as looking 'more or less awake'. i guess that's what passes for passion with you. also, you mentioned that one of your volunteers in iowa died, so now i'm worried you're getting stabby again.

chris christie :: dayum. you killed it. and by 'it', i mean marco rubio's momentum. you ate that guy for breakfast [not literally]. you were the tough-as-nails, practical christie that everyone vaguely remembers being excited about four years ago. unfortunately, for all that you had a strong performance, i think that the reaction of most voters was likely "he's right, these washington senate types aren't great- who else can we vote for?" consider it a cruel kick in the arse from fate: this was your strongest moment, and it likely benefitted people who aren't you.

ted cruz :: a lot of pundits said you got beaten up at the last debate, but i disagree. i thought you were targeted a lot, but i didn't think most of the salvos landed and apparently the iowa voters agreed with me. last night, however, it felt like you were off your game. it wasn't that you were terrible, it's just that you seemed even less interested in what was being said than i was. and by about ninety minutes in, i was checking premier league stats. i'm not sure what you were doing, but it was pretty clear that you know that new hampshire is not for you and that you've moved on.

john kasich :: don't tell anyone, but i think you might have emerged as the unlikely winner of the debate. with christie pounding the crap out of rubio for you, you had the opportunity to lay back a little and talk make the same points that he was- that you have experience making decisions with real consequences, not just drafting legislation- without having to look like a bully. christie even complimented you, which is something that none of us have witnessed. for months, you've been the one sitting on the sidelines rolling your eyes and screaming "the emperor has no clothes!" while people worshiped at the altar of trump. i think that it may finally be dawning on people that you're a pretty electable chap. well played, sir.

carly fiorina :: oh, wait. you weren't invited. small mercies.

marco rubio :: dude. what the actual fuck?!? as you did your speech on the night of the iowa caucus, i was pretty convinced that i was looking at the eventual nominee for the republican party. by the end of last night's debate, i wasn't even sure i was looking at a candidate. there have been rumblings that you're too slick, too stiff, too stuck on talking points to cut it in a real fight and when chris christie decided to needle you on that, you responded by going into full robotic meltdown mode. i'm pretty sure even christie thought you might be pulling his leg at one point, because no thinking person could possibly have collapsed so quickly and so spectacularly. but collapse you did and while pundits might debate who won the debate last night, no one is debating who lost.

donald trump :: well welcome back, son. absent from the last debate because you were scared of megyn kelly and having had your knuckles rapped by iowan voters, it was a slightly diminished donald that we saw on display last night. you got a massive round of boos for mocking jeb! bush, but you managed to turn that around fairly effectively by telling the television audience that those in the amphitheatre were big donors and special interests. i don't have any hard facts to back me up on this, but i feel like that might have been more effective than people realised. you generally sound out of your depth on policy issues and in the discussion on healthcare, i think people finally clued in that what you're proposing sounds a bit socialist-y, but you benefited greatly from the fact that discussions often turned on questions of finance and economics. i don't think you actually know much more about that than you do about anything, but you know more than your opponents and it showed. you did well, you fascist orange fuck.

so what happens now? well, if the polls are to be believed, donald trump wins new hampshire on tuesday. john kasich was in third going into this debate and was already nipping at rubio's heels for second, so i suspect that he's going to do well. rubio has forty-eight hours to convince voters he's not a complete nincompoop and no one knows how that's going to turn out.

on the democratic side, this will be bernie's great stand, but really, it's a state he's expected to win and it doesn't really carry the excitement that coming within a hair's breadth of victory in iowa did. the biggest issue for the sanders campaign at the moment is to figure out why their message is lost on black and latino voters, because it absolutely is. i'm not sure that hillary clinton's campaign is even facing obstacles right now. i can't imagine that they're going to cry about losing new hampshire and they're miles ahead in south carolina, which is where one really expects to see momentum start to shift in her favour. at this point, she can afford to kick back and watch people on the internet argue about the extent to which criticism of her is driven by sexism.

if you follow me on twitter, then you can expect my usual stream of consciousness textual diarrhea on tuesday. if you don't follow me on twitter, your life is probably better for it.

until then, let me just say... ech. i'm not saying anything. i'm having too much fun watching these people and pretending like there's no chance in hell they could end up running the world's largest economy and military. 

04 February 2016

making faces :: the super mega big big monster awesome colour pop post

colour pop may be all over the internet, but they're still a fairly new company and since this year, i've decided to spend more time exploring less covered brands, i figured it was time to see what all the fuss is about. i'm always a little hesitant to embrace new brands, not because i'm not curious, but because there's always that risk of disappointment and being left with the sensation that my limited [yes, it is limited] makeup budget could have been better spent on things from brands i've already grown to love. however, there's a lot less of that risk with colour pop, whose prices are so low, you'll think they've gone crazy. not only are they cheaper than any prestige brands or even the lower-priced brands at sephora, they're cheaper than most drugstore products. add to that the fact that they're american and still spell their name correctly [with a "u"] and you've created a scenario where i just have to give it a whirl.

in fact, i've given it a couple of whirls at this point, trying out their new twist-up eyeliners, their lippie stix lipstick, and their much-discussed super shock eye shadows and cheek products. as you might have guessed from that list, this is going to be an image-heavy post, so if you're outside and chewing through your data plan right now, you might want to pause and come back when you have access to wifi. i'll wait for you, don't worry.

this is a brand that's about youthful fun, splashy colour and newness. they've already become known for their innovative and highly pigmented formulas and their frequent new collections, including collaborations with bloggers, makeup artists and youtube beauty stars [or some combination of those things!]. you might think that that would make them an awkward fit for women of a certain age, or those who prefer a more subdued look to their makeup, but there's definitely something here for everyone.

i'll start off with the only disappointing products i bought, which were the crème gel liners. i don't have a lot of coloured liners, so i jumped at the opportunity to order three of these in lighter colours- that's that sense of adventure that kicks in when you find an interesting-looking product that's cheap enough to outweigh the risk of disappointment. here's what i got:

exit :: a matte snow white, which is incredibly useful for brightening the lower water line and making eyes look larger and clearer. the consistency was nicely creamy and it applied well, although it had a tendency to get a little over-eager and sneak outside the water lines if i wasn't careful. the lasting time was very good, which is surprising on me. normally nothing survives my water lines.

prance :: a lovely cornflower blue that i'd hoped would be purple enough to contrast against the yellowy blue-grey of my eyes. unfortunately, it doesn't really suit me, but what's more frustrating is that the colour payoff isn't great. it took a lot of passes to build the colour up to anything close to what it looked like in the tube, and it was a little uneven. it lasted pretty well, but because it was uneven to begin with, it looked a little patchy.

zulu :: a gorgeous light aqua/ turquoise that performed the best of the bunch. i was surprised at how much i liked this colour on me, because i felt it was the riskiest of the bunch, but it really brightens my eyes and, being a lively sort of colour, adds a subtle touch of fun and frivolity to any look. it'll be perfect for summer, when bold colours look great but you don't necessarily want the heaviness of pigmented products. this one also applied best of all and lasted incredibly well.

02 February 2016

mental health mondays:: mental health day



please note that mhm is not available, because your host is watching electoral returns from iowa. that's more than enough crazy talk for one night.


31 January 2016

paranoid theory of the week :: are neopagan holidays based on historical realities?

welcome, paranoimiacs! as you might have noticed, this seems to have become more of a bi-weekly thing, so i guess we're talking more about the paranoid theory of the fortnight. i have the best of intentions, but i seem to forget that sometimes i wear myself out and get tired. so i'll ask you to bear with me and my occasionally unpredictable scheduling until i get better at managing my time or find better drugs.

the end of january/ beginning of february is likely one of the most non-descript times of the year. later in february or in march, spring break for students has become a bacchanalian rite of passage for students. plus february also brings the "i can't believe it's christianity" festivities of carnival/ mardi gras. after that you have the arrival of spring and easter and then we just kind of coast along a series of official holidays that are really just excuses for all of us to get outside and be happy. seriously, nothing says "domination by the northern hemisphere" like no holidays in january and early february. in australia, argentina and many countries further down the alphabet, those months are the height of summer.

but for pagans, particularly wiccans, the beginning of february is kind of a big deal. it's one of the four wiccan "high holidays" called imbolc, which ushers in the first part of spring. it has been traditionally linked to the beginning of the lambing season in the british isles, to the old irish goddess brigid [later catholicized as saint brigid] and to divination, particularly to do with the weather.

part of the appeal of paganism is doubtless that it seeks to burn away the totalitarian sins of the christian churches, and to reconnect people with a simpler time and a less proscriptive spiritual system. it peels back the onion skin that is christian history and takes the stories of "saints" and "holy days" back to their original, pre-christian truth.

or maybe not. in fact, maybe the supposed historicity of pagan holidays is something that's made up to sell more books and pillowcases with celtic knotwork. let's have a look.

the theory ::
well, this isn't so much a theory as a dialectic. neopagans hold that there is a long and largely repressed history behind their rituals and observances. critics [who include atheists, devout christians and many things in between] say that it's revisionism, with no more claim to fact than stories of ghosts or goblins.

the origin ::
the origin point would probably be somewhere around the time that people started arguing about religion. however, you could also date it to the resurgence of interest in magic and esoteric knowledge around the fin de siècle and the rise of the modern world after the great war. or you could link it to the flourishing of alternative spirituality that occurred as part of the sixties "new age" movement. referring strictly to debates surrounding the "wheel of the year", the publication of gerald gardner's witchcraft today, a foundational document for virtually all modern pagan traditions.

the believers ::
pagans.

the bad guys ::
christians, but particularly the witch-burning, tradition-stealing roman catholic church.

the evidence ::
history is written by the victors, we all know that. that's why we think of hitler as the incarnation of evil, but we don't know who king leopold ii was. [well, maybe you do. you're a smart lot, after all. but most people aren't as smart as you.] so part of the problem with talking about pagan traditions is that they've been very effectively scrubbed from history by the christian church. after all, the church didn't want to dedicate a lot of time to recording the things they were trying to destroy. and for a very long period, the people in the church were the only ones that could read and write, which means that even if everyone had tolerated each other's beliefs, chances are that the christians still would have come out ahead.

what's written about pre-christian traditions was overwhelmingly written in the post-christian world, and we need to take absolutely everything that's said about it with at least a pinch of salt.

however, that's not to say that all the writing stems from post-christian times. there are texts from the celts of ancient ireland and from scandinavian cultures that do shed some light on life before catholicism. unfortunately, while that can tell us something about their gods and myths, it doesn't say a lot about the daily practice of belief. did people leave a candle burning day and night at the end of january/ beginning of february to encourage the return of the sun and the warming of the earth? did they sacrifice their children in order to ensure a good harvest? did they gather with their family members and neighbours in the outdoors and dance all night to mark the longest day of the year? we're not really clear on a lot of that detail.

so in order to figure out what sort of things they might have done, we look at the "footprints" they've left behind. those footprints are comprised largely of traditions or beliefs that are known to have been present for generations, but which come from obscure sources. these can be superstitions, like the number thirteen being unlucky, or customs, like decorating the home with evergreens to coincide with the winter solstice, or even things like songs or fairytales. when you study many of these things closely enough and look at where the earliest references to them are made, you can figure out some things about the lives of the people who started them.

that's a very long way of making what is ultimately an unsatisfying point: there is very little direct but considerable amount of indirect evidence about the history of neopagan holidays. and unfortunately, a lot of the indirect evidence is misrepresented and/ or misinterpreted.

for starters, there is the idea of halloween, or samhain. this is another one of the "high holidays" on the neopagan wheel of the year, perceived by some as the most important holiday [although the whole point of having a wheel is that there isn't a hierarchy]. there is some pretty compelling historical evidence to suggest that the date was important to the celts, in the form of irish writing that dates all the way back to the fourth century- some of the oldest vernacular writing in the world. it may have also been a date of some significance to the gauls [who were also celts, but we talked about that already]. so it's tempting to link our halloween to the pre-christian tradition of a festival that marked the final harvest before the darker half of the year.

but if that were the case, you'd expect that halloween would have stronger roots in europe rather than the new world, when the truth is the exact opposite. halloween is a relative non-event in europe, even in the celtic homelands. those people couldn't even grow their own pumpkins until we sent them the seeds.

in fact, all the traditions that we associate with modern "halloween", many of which have been carried over to the neopagan samhain, are far more strongly rooted in the new world than the old. nor is there much evidence that the catholic observances of all saints and all souls days were an attempt to co-opt a previously existing festival. the catholic church wasn't opposed to things like harvest festivals, necessarily. they were opposed to using them to honour other gods. those aren't the same thing.

[side note :: i chose halloween as an example because it has some of the best known traditions, along with yule/ winter solstice. imbolc is a much more obscure date, but it does have some folklore associated with it. it is linked heavily with saint brigid, who is a christianized form of the irish goddess brigid and imbolc may be linked to another strange little superstition. remember when i mentioned that it was associated with divination? well isn't it coincidental that at the beginning of february every year, we are treated to the spectacle of a large rodent who emerges from the ground to tell us how much longer winter will last? you call it groundhog day. others call it imbolc.] 

part of the problem here is that we're assuming that both of these narratives constitutes a religious history. the history of christianity is religious. the history of paganism is folk history. our attempts to classify it as a religion are borne of our experience of religion, specifically of the christian religion. we know that pre-christian cultures had gods. some of them had practices that went well beyond "superstition". a distant relative of mine was burned alive à la wicker man because he was king during a bad harvest. that's a little more hardcore than stepping over [or on] the cracks in the sidewalk. but it's still a big leap from there to assuming that religion and the gods played the sort of omnipresent role in people's lives that they do in christianity. the gods might demand that the king be killed to reverse the luck of a bad crop, but they didn't insist that you kill every king all the time. it was a special occasion kind of thing.

the likelihood :: 6.5/10
there is some historical evidence to support the existence of pre-christian holidays oriented around the change of seasons and the times of planting and harvesting, but modern neopagan traditions filter those through a series of lenses, so that their historical realities are pretty much detached from their current form.

religious belief or spirituality, however, is supposed to be something that you can experience in the absence of empirical fact or historical proof, however. that's what makes it faith. you don't have faith in gravity because you can just drop something and remind yourself that it exists. religious beliefs aren't like that, and that's totally fine.

but what's important, after so much history has already been distorted by victors, that we don't engage in distorting it more. don't claim that something is science when it isn't anymore than you'd claim that a certain chemical can be safely ingested.

  • there is clearly some historical foundation for neopagan holidays
  • we have very little information about how those days were observed in pre-christian times
  • there is mixed information on which traditions predate and postdate christianity.


so if you celebrate imbolc, may you have a happy one. if you don't, enjoy your long, cold holiday-less existence for a few weeks longer. 
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...