Wednesday, 30 November 2005

For Carmel

I wanted to keep this one for our 25th Wedding Anniversary, but some things are too important to delay.

I also wanted to tell the world what an incredible person my partner, Carmel, is, and the truly hideous choice she's faced with. And how she's helped me already so much, out of a love that goes beyond all bounds and marriage vows.

I want to let others know just what it's like, what the situation is for her, without melodrama or exaggeration, the bald facts. The Truth. And why I say we're taking things "one day at a time" and seeing how it all pans out.

From Dialogue with Jennifer : Letters Vol 32 :
The usual response of most partners, wives, girlfriends, husbands, boyfriends, and so on of the transsexual (of whatever direction of change) is...shock, followed by anger, followed by rejection. Basically, a transsexual can expect, as a rule, to lose everyone in their lives completely; all family, all friends, everyone. This is utterly common.

What is uncommon, very uncommon, is any situation where any friend, lover, family member, or spouse stays with the transsexual all the way through transition and out the other side. It does happen...but very, very, very rarely.

Among the most common of feelings that the spouses and lovers of newly awakened transsexuals report to me is a feeling of betrayal. They tend to feel betrayed, as though they have been tricked, or as though their transsexual partner has been lying to them, or has somehow been playing a game with them. This is not what is going on, but one can definitely understand how they would feel this a great extent their very sense of the reality of their partner has been shattered.

The situation is that the transsexual has almost certainly spent a lifetime trying to deny, repress, ignore, and willfully make 'not true' the fundamental reality of their defect, which is being born with a brain of one sex, and a body the quite the opposite. Transsexuality is such a subtle form of intersexuality that it is confusing and difficult even for the transsexual involved. And of course, there is such bigotry and shame associated with the condition that admitting it in any form is a horrific task for most transsexuals. It is no wonder that so many transsexuals simply suicide rather than face their condition. The transsexual, coming out to a spouse, is coming out as much to themselves as to anyone, because if they have lied, they have lied to themselves as well, merely to cope day to day. It is such a terribly painful condition, or can be for many transsexuals, that combined with the social loathing of it...the need to wish it away is...overwhelming.

Unfortunately, the condition is very real, and eventually, whether at a young age, or in middle age (for the few that make it that far), there comes a time where it absolutely cannot be denied any longer. It's like a dam bursting. Thus the sudden coming out, the rapidity and the almost maniacal need to deal with it all at once, and the feelings in spouses and friends that everything has changed instantly, which can thus feel like a kind of betrayal, at least of expectations.

Another issue many lovers and spouses have with having a transsexual partner is that they may wonder what is going on with themselves. They soon realize that the transsexual partner's identity does not change because of transition, and that only their physical sex and some aspects of behavior change. It becomes clear that the inner moiety, the inner gender of the transsexual was ...contrary... even before the condition was revealed. This makes some lovers and spouses question their own sexuality...because, in effect, they were attracted to a personality of their own gender, hidden within a body of the opposite sex. They wonder if that makes them queer. They wonder if this means that they somehow, deep down, are homosexual. Some folks get really bothered about this. Obviously, if one is bisexual, this would not be an issue, so such a problem is only common to heterosexual partners of newly-awakened transsexuals.

My usual answer to this is that women often have problems with men and vice versa, because there are some basic incompatibilities in the things men and women want from life, and from each other, and this is well known. The transsexual presents, before coming out, as an apparent member of the opposite sex that [is]....remarkably compatible. Getting along is surprisingly easy in comparison to other relationships because, in effect, an impossible ideal has seemingly become real; the straight guy who thinks in a way a woman can agree with, or a straight woman who thinks in a way a man can agree with. In actuality, of course, the transsexual is a woman or man who simply wears the body of the opposite sex. So, basically, if you are a woman with a MTF (Male-To-Female) transsexual as a partner, what you really had all along was a lesbian lover who looked...extraordinarily butch. But, one would not know that, and seems like a magical ideal...the perfect man, or at least the better than usual man. One that thinks and values things that a woman can agree on much of the time. As a generalization.

Thus, the spouse is (usually) not queer herself (or himself, in the FTM case), just in love with a person, a person who they get along with, and have no reason to see as anything other than what they appear. Of course, the transsexual themselves has been trying not to see themselves accurately either...because it is just too awful to admit to themselves. It's kind of a trap for both people, for everyone involved. It's just complicated and unhappy for everyone.

Then comes the issue of...what if the spouse sticks with their transsexual lover all the way through...then what?

Well, that is very simple. Either the couple stay together as just friends, they adapt their sexuality to allow what will become a gay relationship, or they split up.

So....let's say you stay with your transsexual lover....on the other side, she will be a girl. Period. And that means that either you two end up in a lesbian relationship, or you stay together as best friends without any sexual relationship, split up. That is what happens. It's either best friends sharing a life and dating others, you become homosexual partners, or it ends.

So, what I think is that what you need to do is to really consider what your own needs are here. Are you bi? Straight? If you are capable of being bisexual, the problem is small...instead of a boyfriend and husband, say, you end up with a girlfriend and wife, and if you really love each other, it's happily ever after. On the other hand, if you are straight as an arrow, then...there is no point in kidding's not going to work, unless sex is not of major importance to you, or unless you can work out some form of open relationship where you can get what you need on the side. This is the reality of the situation.

Thus....what you have here is a person, who you thought was male, but who never was. They were born female, but their body surely did not look female. If they are truly transsexual, they will fight to the death to get their body fixed, and one day, several years from now, they will end up...just female. If your partner really is transsexual, then you don't have a boyfriend, you have a girlfriend. You always did, but both of you just couldn't see that, for various reasons. You, because your girlfriend looked convincingly male, and your transsexual partner...because it is unbelievably terrible to face being a freak of nature, a birth defected creature that society does not merely make fun of...but often openly loathes.

What you need to do is to assess your situation in terms of what you need, what you can live with, what you can live without, and what your own sexuality is.

You will need to weigh sex, and roles within relationships. You will need to consider whether or not you can be happy as a lesbian in a committed relationship with another woman, which is what things will be in about two to four years. And I might add, those two to four years will not be is a difficult road to repair Nature's Nastiest Little Joke. On the other hand....helping someone you love save their very lives counts pretty big in the Big Book of Relationships.

Ultimately, you need to figure out what you need. Sex? Love? Friendship? The specific soul that is this particular person, out of all the people in the world, that you have written to me about? Regardless of shape or form or sex? Or.....not?

You are in a relationship with a real life shapeshifter. They will shapeshift, and the result will be unbelievably profound. They won't turn into a wolf, but their transformation will be no less magical and incredible. More than this, it will be very real. As real as life and death.

You have your life. You need to know what you want out of it. Once you know that...then your choices are straightforward.

How do you thank someone for saving your life? For being the mother of your child? How do you thank someone for being so very, very uncommon? If it was in my power, I'd shower her with accolades, for love "above and beyond the call of duty". And no matter what the future, we will have had 25 years married together, and will always be the very best of friends. More than that is too much to ask for, and probably too much to hope for too. I never thought there was anything that could threaten our marriage, our partnership, but neither of us counted on this. So one day at a time.

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

The Right Way, The Wrong Way, and the Army Way

From The Australian :
Australia's army will be restructured into nine highly flexible "battle groups" capable of being rapidly deployed to wage war or perform peacekeeping duties under a $1.8 billion plan to be put to cabinet's national security committee tomorrow.

The radical overhaul, the biggest transformation of the army's organisation since World War II, would see land forces boosted by an extra 2500 combat troops - almost 10 per cent - by 2012.
It will signal a major shift from the army's existing organisation, based on light infantry battalions of between 750 and 800 soldiers.
So instead of having a miniscule 9 battalions, we'll have 9 battalion-sized Kampfgruppen instead.

In practice, Australian forces committed to large-scale warfare have always been "combined arms" forces like this: a battalion of infantry would sometimes "lose" a company of infantry, and "gain" a company of tanks. Or just have the tanks added, the tank battalion being split up so several battalions each had a share. This can be taken down to a very low level: a company of tanks might have a platoon of infantry attached, and so on.

The main effect is to complicate the logistical situation, but also to make it more effective. Tanks (with their appropriate mechanical, electrical and so on support) will be "organic" to each battalion. No more light-infantry-only units, valuable those these are in rough terrain, such as cities and jungles.

Because experience from Vietnam through to Iraq has shown that combined-arms teams are just more effective in most roles, and at least as effective in others.
The planned changes would see each new "battle group" -- about 750-strong and based on current battalions and regiments -- equipped with all the assets to wage war in the 21st-century battlefield, including artillery, tanks and helicopters.

New deployable army formations -- ranging from the battle groups to the smallest four-man "fire team" -- would be a great deal more lethal and nimble, better protected, and more adaptable than the army's existing five mainstream infantry battalions.
Plus the 4 others, the 2 existing mechanised cavalry battalions, the armoured infantry battalion, and the tank battalion.
The army's goal is to create two composite brigade-sized units, each consisting of 3000 soldiers, equipped with artillery, aviation, armoured vehicles and engineering support.

This would enable a brigade-strength force to be maintained on operations overseas simultaneously with a smaller battalion or battle group -- a key goal set by the Government for the future army in the 2000 Defence White Paper and not yet achieved.
Oh I don't know... the company-sized "intervention force" and the brigade (3-4 battalion) sized mechanised infantry "Rapid Reaction Force" that currently exist come pretty close.
Under the changes, the army would grow to about 28,000 personnel, compared with its current strength of around 25,500. The army already has approval to lift its strength to 26,500, but is struggling to fill recruitment targets.
And that's the problem. We can't even recruit enough high-calibre people to fill the existing TOE (Table of Equipment and Organisation).
The bigger force would allow the creation of an extra battalion or battle group, as well as enabling hollowed-out units to become fully operational.
Just how much of Australia's army exists mainly on paper? 30% possibly. That 30% is of course capable of rapidly ramping up to full strength, given the weapons and the trained troops. They've kept the vital infrastructure needed to become capable units, they just lack the manpower. And the spares. And the equipment. They do have the training though.
The army plan would also see all units "networked", with even individual soldiers given access to sophisticated communications and intelligence links.
This is the key: even squad commanders will have access to raw data from drones flying overhead: even a lance corporal will have the training and equipment to call down the Warth Of God - or a reasonable facsimile thereof, in the shape of GPS-guided bombs - on any enemy unit that's causing problems. And even a Sergeant will have all the reconaissance skills and equipment needed to keep High Command informed of just exactly what the heck is happening, as it happens.

In Theory, anyway. It places and enormous training burden on the troops. They must not only be fit as Olympic Athletes, they must be as skilled as Communications technicians, and as observant as plainclothes detectives.
The army plans to offset some of the cost of the restructuring plan from the sale of asset, including valuable property in the Sydney area.
The Army has lots of very valuable real estate, effectively national parks at the moment, old forts and bunkers and their surrounding lands, right on Sydney's foreshores. Sell even a small fraction, and a lot of monmey would roll in. Of course, a lot of virgin bushland would be covered in skyscrapers, and Sydney would lose a small quantity of its charm as the result. But this is inevitable, in the long run.
Army reservists are also set to play a more active role in the new deployable battle groups.
Good Luck with that. Unless in non-front-line support roles, logistics, engineering, communications and so on, they won't have the training. It takes years, not weeks, of full-time continuous training to be the type of "super soldier" that networked warfare requires. But with the increased "organic" assets and equipment reticulated to lower levels, more logistics personnel will be needed. So maybe it will work after all.

Monday, 28 November 2005

Another Addictive Game


And another intersting URL : the Library of iAlexandrah :
ialexandriah is a Synthesis of new physics, sacred geometry, ancient and modern history, multiple universes & realities, consciousness, the Ha Qabala and ORME, extraterrestrials, corporate rule and politics, law, order and entropy, trial by jury, astronomy, monetary policy, scientific anomalies, and a whole host of other subjects ranging from astrology and astrophysics to superstrings and sonoluminesence to biblical and geologic histories to numerology, the Tarot, and creating your own reality. It is an attempt at bridging of the Age of Pisces (i) and the Age of Aquarius (h).
The annoying thing is that it almost seems as if it really should make some kind of sense, in parts.

Sunday, 27 November 2005

As a Service to US Readers...

How to get a human on the line.

Examples :
Visa (800-847-2911) : 000 (ignore prompts saying that it's an invalid entry)
Safeway local store : As soon as voice prompt starts type 1200 to get human
FedEx (888-GO-FEDEX) : At message say Representative
Verizon DSL (800 567 6789): Say I don't know it then technician
..and many others.

Crescent Moonbats

Alerted by an article in LGF, I went over to have a look at the (Australian) Mission Islam website.

From one article, How the West Came to Dominate the Whole Wide World:
Following the destruction of Baghdad in 1258 AD by Christian-backed Mongols...
Having been previously expelled from European countries, the Jews returned under the New Secular Order, to dominate the socio-economic, political and foreign affairs of the Gentiles (non-Jew) by indirectly ruling the Church.
Right... Ho Kay.

Then there's the New World Order page, which contains a short, pithy, and utterly loony movie.

Saturday, 26 November 2005

Fun and Games

For Engineers and College Students, there's this one, or even this one.

For Cat Lovers, there's the Kitten Cannon.

For those who are afficionados of the "unfortunate turn of phrase", there's a gem from This Is True :
The Arlington campus of the University of Texas hosted a debate about pornography. Porn actor Ron Jeremy was faced down by anti-porn author Susan Cole, and they debated the pros and cons of consuming porn in the Bluebonnet Ballroom, according to the campus newspaper, the Shorthorn. Pornography has positive points, Jeremy insisted. Couples, for instance, can "look at some of the positions we do and re-enact them," he said. "It's cute." Cole criticized porn. "It's ironic to me that a country who celebrates individualism is eager to swallow everything pornography shoves down their throats," she complained. (University of Texas Shorthorn)

Finally, and just for time-wasting fun, courtesy of reader Christine Nicholls, there's this , from BlueBall :

Friday, 25 November 2005

Slavery in Mauretania

Slavery is not just being practiced in Mauretania, they've perfected it.
On November 6, a 14-year-old girl named Khadama was rescued from slavery in the African country of Mauritania. But less than 12 hours after she reported her physical abuse to authorities, police returned her to her owner, who wasn't even questioned.

It's nothing short of an outrage that Khadama could be so betrayed by a system meant to protect her. Unfortunately, cases like Khadama's are all too common. For centuries, black Mauritanians have been born into slavery and treated as the property of their slave holders - a practice known as chattel slavery. Although slavery in Mauritania has been technically outlawed four times, the practice continues to thrive thanks to the Mauritanian government's complicity.

In the process of rescuing Khadama, SOS Slaves - an underground anti-slavery group based in Mauritania - discovered two more victims of slavery living under the same roof: Khadama's mother and her 12-year-old niece M'barka. When M'barka reported that her owner's nephew had raped and impregnated her, she was thrown in jail for "sexual misconduct". The nephew was free to go without questioning.

Now would be a good time to go over to the Anti-Slavery Website and use the facilities there to send some pungent e-mails to various people who might have some influence. It will only take a minute.

Thursday, 24 November 2005

Thanksgiving 2005

This post was originally just going to be to wish my American readership a Happy Holiday.

But it occurred to me just how very much I have to be thankful for, in this year 2005.

My little son, Andrew, he's now 4, happy and healthy. Given the circumstances, his existence is miraculous.

My partner, my best friend, has been so suportive, even though this has probably been tougher on her than it's been on me. As one classmate put it :
at the same time i admire Carmel for not having put a steak knife into you. not sure mine would be quite so broad minded.
The marriage vows didn't cover this kind of stuff, and it would be unreasonable to expect us to remain together. We're taking it one day at a time. Maybe the unreasonable will happen, though the odds are against it. In any case, we'll always be tbe very best of girlfriends, and that's far more than most TS women have.

My unplanned and unexpected Transition : The best thing that's happened to me in my life, an impossible dream coming true. Yes, it's dramatically inconvenient, but only someone who's TS can appreciate just how awful being in the wrong gendered body can be. I didn't, until I got a small taste of normality. Nearly everyone takes fitting comfortably in their body for granted, that's something I never will.

By far the most likely set of explanations for what happened to me would have been a number of neoplasms, all fatal and pretty quickly too. I lucked out - so far.

The immense support I've had from various forums and mailing lists, some of the greatest support coming from people with far greater problems than my own. Their courage and kindness has been beyond my belief.

The immense support I've had too from my friends, and from the readership of this blog. That includes some very generous donations by a number of people. I was hoping for maybe $4 here, $5 there, but I've been getting $40 here, $50 there. This has made a significant impact on my lifestyle, and I thank you all. I must confess though that not all of it will be used for medical bills. Some I've already given to people who need it far more than I do. Given the generosity shown by strangers, my conscience couldn't let me keep it all when others like me are quite literally going hungry. And I'm no plaster saint : I've kept a fair chunk for my own bills.

I'm Thankful that, unlike so many TS women, I'm not estranged from my family and children. I don't have to spend my holidays cold and lonely, hoping for a telephone call to at least ask if I'm alive, and getting nothing but an answering machine if I call those I love.

I'm thankful that I've been given the opportunity to help a few others like me, especially those too young to have any money or power, and with parents whose religious beliefs conflict with medical science. Or those "secondary" transsexuals like myself who have had families, lives of responsibility and duty, and find themselves unable to continue, no matter how much they want to. Their only chance of being a functional parent is to transition, otherwise it's the grave or permanent institutionalisation. The Guilt is overwhelming, and many can't take it : unless helped, they fall by the wayside, leaving their children orphans. I've taken so very much, but even a small contribution back to the common pot makes me feel a little less endebted. Besides which, it's not about me, it's about them. It doesn't take much to give me a sense of smug self-satisfaction, and if I was half the woman I'd like to think I am, I'd be doing twice as much. Not false modesty, truth, alas.

So every time I think about how hard things are, I am reminded of just how lucky I've been. And I give thanks.

Gender and Text Messages

From the BBC :
Text messages sent by men are shorter and use more sarcasm and swearing than those sent by women, says a study from Sheffield Hallam University.

But the messages get longer when men are writing to women, say researchers.

Women's text messages are more likely to show "support and affection", claims the research, led by Dr Simeon Yates.

"Both sexes have adapted the technology in slightly different ways in order to meet their own communication needs," says Dr Yates.
Men were ready to swap short and more aggressive text messages, using "sarcasm, sexual humour and swearing". But they changed their text style when sending a message to women, writing longer and more substantial messages.
I'm not at all sure this has any great significance : it's more likely a matter of cultural conditioning than anything else. Blokes text messages would tend to be Blokey in the natural order of things; it's not just accepted, but in certain societies required, that males be moderately uncouth when talking amongst themselves. But when either sex is conversing with a Lady, they are supposed to behave with a little more decorum. That's the way they've been educated.

Oh Joy

From the Guardian :
President Robert Mugabe has said Zimbabwe will process recently discovered uranium deposits in order to resolve its chronic electrical power shortage, state radio said Sunday.

Mugabe, who has close ties with two countries with controversial nuclear programs, Iran and North Korea, made the announcement Saturday, the radio station reported.

It was not clear how Mugabe intended to use any uranium deposits since the country does not have a nuclear power plant.
"Zimbabwe will develop power by processing uranium, which has recently been found in the country," the radio quoted Mugabe as saying.

"The discovery of uranium will go a long way in further enhancing the government rural electrification program," he was quoted as saying.
Zimbabwe has been plagued by a chronic shortage of foreign exchange since Mugabe's seizure of 5,000 white owned farms and the collapse of an export-oriented agricultural industry. It currently has a daily 400 to 450 megawatt generation shortfall on requirements of 2,100 megawatts.

Zimbabwe has had great difficulty meeting bills from Mozambique, South Africa and Congo for imports from the regional electric power grid.
North Korea is one of the few places which have even less foreign currency reserves than Zimbabwe. But Iran, on the other hand...

Of course, the news could be even better. Perhaps Zimbabwe will be given access to nuclear technology, rather than foreign exchange.

Pardon me if I'm less than enthused at this piece of news.

Wednesday, 23 November 2005

Magic and the Brain

From th Guardian :
First there's shock tinged with disbelief. A moment of wonder follows. Then, a desperate scramble to rack your brains and work out just how you've been had. There's no denying the effects of a good magic trick. From the great escapes of Houdini and the surreal mental trickery of Derren Brown to the conjurors at children's parties, the appeal is universal.

"Magic's been around for a very long time and it improves over time," says Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at Hertfordshire University. "What you're looking at when you see a finished piece of magic is a great deal of expertise, and I think psychologists have a lot to learn from that."

But, not content with just enjoying the tricks, psychologists are now using their effects on the mind to work out how we handle the floods of sensory information coming into our brains and process it into a mental picture of the world around us. Magic is a deception, a disruption of that orderly mental picture where things seem to float in mid-air or coins and cards vanish in front of our eyes. Scientists now believe that, by mapping out how our brains are deceived, they could even help to unlock some of the mysteries of consciousness itself.

"Over the last five years, there's been a reawakening as we look at things like change blindness [a failure to see large changes in a visual scene] and at the fact that consciousness is a construction and may even be an illusion," says Wiseman, himself an accomplished magician and member of the Magic Circle. "Now there's a recognition that magicians are doing something very special."
"Magicians are manipulating your consciousness. They are showing you something impossible," says Wiseman. "They're getting you to construct a narrative, which simply isn't true. So that means they know how to make you aware of certain things and blind to other things. What I'm hoping is that magic, this entertainment vehicle that has been around for a long time, will give us a real insight into the deep mysteries of consciousness."

Our brains filter out a huge amount of the mass of sensory input flooding in from our environment. Kuhn explains that we see what we expect to see and what our brains are interested in. "Our visual representation of the world is much more impoverished than we would assume. People can be looking at something without being aware of it. Perception doesn't just involve looking at an object but attending to it."
It is known that we only receive high-quality information from the area we are fixated on, right in the centre of our field of view. If you stretch out your arm, it is about two thumbs' width at the centre of your vision - everything else is pretty much blurred. The way we compensate for this is to move our eyes around to fill in the gaps and create a better picture of the world around us.
"With the ball experiment, we discovered that people aren't just looking up at the ball, they're looking at facial clues to judge where the ball is going to end up," says Kuhn. "If the magician doesn't look up in the air, the trick doesn't work. People feel that they're watching the ball but what they are doing is monitoring the magician's face and cues and using that information to guide their eye movements."

This leads to an interesting idea -could some people be immune to some of the effects of magic? People who suffer from autism, for example, tend to have difficulties gauging facial cues, so their attention is less influenced by where somebody is looking. "You'd expect that somebody who suffered from autism would be more likely to spot the cigarette trick," agrees Kuhn.

The next step is to look at the brain directly. Working with psychologists Tim Hodson and Ben Parris at Exeter University's Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience, Kuhn plans to put people in functional magnetic resonance imaging machines to study which parts of the brain activate when they watch magic tricks.

"We're very interested in the part of the brain that detects cause and effect relations," says Parris.

In particular, the experiments will monitor the dorsal lateral pre-frontal cortex, which is known to be the bit of the brain that registers surprise, and the anterior cingulate, which is activated whenever something incongruous happens in our immediate environment.

Of course, magic is more than just surprise, so the researchers will be looking for something more. "When you're watching magic, there is just a split second when you're in disbelief and that's what we're looking for, that exact moment," he says. "The magic spot."

"No one's done this and it's unclear whether it'll be a single part of the brain or a network," says Parris.
I know all about the "shock tinged with disbelief." And the "moment of wonder". I'm still doing the "desperate scramble to rack your brains" bit working out what the heck happened since May. It's the Geek in me, just can't accept what appears to be a miracle without trying to peek behind the curtain. If it is psychological, or mainly so, how come what appears to be objective evidence exists? Or am I seeing patterns in that too that aren't really there? If so, everyone else seems to be too, including the camera lens.

Anyway, that's a background task, I have bigger fish to fry at the moment. But it's nice to have an interesting puzzle to contemplate in my off hours. And to live in such a strange and sometimes inexplicable Universe. The wonder won't ever fade completely, and I rather like that.

Tuesday, 22 November 2005

Vonnegut Jumps the Shark

From The Australian :
One of the greatest living US writers has praised terrorists as "very brave people" and used drug culture slang to describe the "amazing high" suicide bombers must feel before blowing themselves up.

Kurt Vonnegut, author of the 1969 anti-war classic Slaughterhouse Five, made the provocative remarks during an interview in New York for his new book, Man Without a Country, a collection of writings critical of US President George W. Bush.

Vonnegut, 83, has been a strong opponent of Mr Bush and the US-led war in Iraq, but until now has stopped short of defending terrorism.

But in discussing his views with The Weekend Australian, Vonnegut said it was "sweet and honourable" to die for what you believe in, and rejected the idea that terrorists were motivated by twisted religious beliefs.

"They are dying for their own self-respect," he said. "It's a terrible thing to deprive someone of their self-respect. It's like your culture is nothing, your race is nothing, you're nothing."

Asked if he thought of terrorists as soldiers, Vonnegut, a decorated World War II veteran, said: "I regard them as very brave people, yes."

He equated the actions of suicide bombers with US president Harry Truman's 1945 decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

On the Iraq war, he said: "What George Bush and his gang did not realise was that people fight back."

Vonnegut suggested suicide bombers must feel an "amazing high". He said: "You would know death is going to be painless, so the anticipation - it must be an amazing high."
But since Mr Bush was elected, Vonnegut's criticisms of US policy have become more and more impassioned.

In 2002, he was widely criticised for saying there was too much talk about the 9/11 attacks and not enough about "the crooks on Wall Street and in big corporations", whose conduct had been more destructive.

The following year he wrote that the US was hated around the world "because our corporations have been the principal deliverers and imposers of new technologies and economic schemes that have wrecked the self-respect, the cultures of men, women and children in so many other societies".
It's not often that bald commentary makes its way into a straight news story, but even The Australian couldn't refrain from speaking the obvious :
But Vonnegut's latest comments are likely to make many people wonder if old age has finally caught up with a grand old man of American letters.
Ya Think?

People like James Lileks. Eugene Volokh. But not everybody.

Ezra Pound revisited.

Monday, 21 November 2005

It was 30 years ago Today

Or near enough, anyway. I was 16, going on 17, when the picture was taken.

No wonder so many people recognised me at the Class of '75 reunion. This picture, along with pictures of the various football, rowing, and other sports teams was projected at the back of the hall.

I look at that picture, and I wonder. If today's technology would have existed back then... if the Internet had been around so kids with this problem could have found out more about it... if Society as a whole would have been different, more knowlegeable, less ignorant and bigotted.... well, maybe. Maybe not, at the time I thought it would take some sort of miracle to make me look normal. I guess it did.

The face was OK, that was never the problem. I remember as if it was yesterday, I deliberately half turned away from the camera to hide my broad, footballer frame. Never did know what to do with my hands. My instinctive relaxation positions couldn't be assumed, I had muscles where I shouldn't, everything felt wrong. Couldn't even cross my legs properly.

At age 12 or so, just before I entered Grammar, I learned that Boys and Girls were already physiologically different, and had been since birth. It wasn't just an arbitrary category you got put into, one that you could get changed before Puberty. I knew it intellectually then, Boy Body, had to be a Boy.

But it wasn't until I was 15, and started growing facial hair, that it really hit me. I was stuck like this, permanently, irrevocably. And it wasn't too bad. I could handle it. Male Body? OK, grow into the best darn Male you can be, Girl! There isn't that much difference is there? Is there? Please tell me there isn't....

Did I always have that haunted expression? So obvious in hindsight, but so difficult to recognise at the time?

OK, so assuming the technology and whatnot had existed, after a few years of transition, I would have gotten maybe 25 or so years of living a normal life. But I wouldn't have my little son. And a marriage 25 years long to my other half, the love of my life.

You know what? I got a bargain, didn't I? And wonder of wonders, I get to be Me, Zoe, at the end of it too.

Photo courtesy of the Sydney Grammar School Archives, to whom many thanks

Sunday, 20 November 2005

Cellular Self-Destruct Mechanisms

Now this is interesting, and may even be relevant to what's happened to me recently. From Science Daily:
A counterintuitive experiment has resulted in one of the longest recorded life-span extensions in any organism and opened a new door for anti-aging research in humans.

Scientists have known for several years that an extra copy of the SIR2 gene can promote longevity in yeast, worms and fruit flies.

That finding was covered widely and incorporated into anti-aging drug development programs at several biotechnology companies.

Now, molecular geneticists at the University of Southern California suggest that SIR2 instead promotes aging.

Their study, "Sir2 Blocks Extreme Life-Span Extension," appears in the Nov. 18 edition of the biology journal Cell. The lead author is Valter Longo, assistant professor in the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.

Rather than adding copies of SIR2 to yeast, Longo's research group deleted the gene altogether.

The result was a dramatically extended life span - up to six times longer than normal - when the SIR2 deletion was combined with caloric restriction and/or a mutation in one or two genes, RAS2 and SCH9, that control the storage of nutrients and resistance to cell damage.

Human cells with reduced SIR2 activity also appear to confirm that SIR2 has a pro-aging effect, Longo said, although those results are not included in the Cell paper.

Since all mammals share key aging-related genes, the paper points to a new direction for human anti-aging research.

Longo proposes that SIR2 and possibly its counterpart in mammals, SIRT1, may block the organism from entering an extreme survival mode characterized by the absence of reproduction, improved DNA repair and increased protection against cell damage. Organisms usually enter this mode in response to starvation.

Longo proposes that SIR2 and possibly its counterpart in mammals, SIRT1, may block the organism from entering an extreme survival mode characterized by the absence of reproduction, improved DNA repair and increased protection against cell damage. Organisms usually enter this mode in response to starvation.

The long-lived organisms in Longo's experiment showed extraordinary resilience under stress.

"We hit them with oxidants, we hit them with heat," Longo said. "They are highly resistant to everything. What they're doing is basically saying, 'I cannot afford to age. I still have to generate offspring, but I don't have enough food to do it now."

Longo predicted that as molecular geneticists master the levers of aging, they will be able to design drugs that coax the body into entering chosen aspects of a starvation-response mode, such as stress resistance, even when food is plentiful.

If enough food is available, an organism might be programmed both to reproduce normally and to maximize its survival systems.

Longo urged caution in extrapolating the result to humans.

"We have been very successful with simple organisms," he said. "Naturally, mammals are complex, and it will be a great challenge to get major life-span extension."

A "really exciting" implication, Longo said, is that cells may be able to speed up their DNA repair efforts. All organisms have the ability to repair harmful mutations in their DNA, whether caused by age, radiation, diet or other environmental factors. Cancer often begins when DNA mutations outstrip a cell's ability to remain differentiated.
There is still so much we don't know...

My body is still changing at what appears to be an unusually rapid rate for someone undergoing HRT. But it's difficult finding reliable metrics. Often, growth comes in spurts, so things like breast size aren't reliable. Measuring change of fat distribution is still very subjective, camera angles can change one's whole appearance.

Hmmm... time for another update of my blog photo soon, I think.

Pressing Your Buttons

This one from reader Chris :

Some of my favourites:
  • Code as if whoever maintains your code is a violent psychopath who knows where you live
  • If a system is of sufficient complexity, it will be written before it's designed, implemented before it's tested, and obsolete before it's debugged
  • The generation of random numbers is much too important to be left to chance
  • Life is complex--it's partly real and partly imaginary
  • Encouragable Romantic
  • Intelligence is the ultimate aphrodisiac
One that I used to like, but is now obsolete
  • Lesbian trapped in a man's body
Wonder if they'd insert "formerly" for me?

Saturday, 19 November 2005

Environmentally Adaptive Fault-Tolerant Computing

A Space post this one, and also one on Software Engineering. From NASA :
When your computer behaves erratically, mauls your data, or just "crashes" completely, it can be frustrating. But for an astronaut trusting a computer to run navigation and life-support systems, computer glitches could be fatal.

Unfortunately, the radiation that pervades space can trigger such glitches. When high-speed particles, such as cosmic rays, collide with the microscopic circuitry of computer chips, they can cause chips to make errors. If those errors send the spacecraft flying off in the wrong direction or disrupt the life-support system, it could be bad news.
Yes, an anomaly like that could ruin your whole day. "Disasters", "Catastrophes", even "Accidents" are not in the vocabulary of Rocket Science. They're all just "anomalies", meaning something didn't quite go the way you expected.
To ensure safety, most space missions use radiation hardened computer chips. "Rad-hard" chips are unlike ordinary chips in many ways. For example, they contain extra transistors that take more energy to switch on and off. Cosmic rays can't trigger them so easily. Rad-hard chips continue to do accurate calculations when ordinary chips might "glitch."

NASA relies almost exclusively on these extra-durable chips to make computers space-worthy. But these custom-made chips have some downsides: They're expensive, power hungry, and slow -- as much as 10 times slower than an equivalent CPU in a modern consumer desktop PC.
Closer to 100 times, these days.
Using the same inexpensive, powerful Pentium and PowerPC chips found in consumer PCs would help tremendously, but to do so, the problem of radiation-induced errors must be solved.

This is where a NASA project called Environmentally Adaptive Fault-Tolerant Computing (EAFTC) comes in. Researchers working on the project are experimenting with ways to use consumer CPUs in space missions. They're particularly interested in "single event upsets," the most common kind of glitches caused by single particles of radiation barreling into chips.

eam member Raphael Some of JPL explains: "One way to use faster, consumer CPUs in space is simply to have three times as many CPUs as you need: The three CPUs perform the same calculation and vote on the result. If one of the CPUs makes a radiation-induced error, the other two will still agree, thus winning the vote and giving the correct result."

This works, but often it's overkill, wasting precious electricity and computing power to triple-check calculations that aren't critical.

"To do this smarter and more efficiently, we're developing software that weighs the importance of a calculation," continues Some. "If it's very important, like navigation, all three CPUs must vote. If it's less important, like measuring the chemical makeup of a rock, only one or two CPUs might be involved."
Personally.... I don't think this is the way to go. It adds complexity. In particular, instead of having a single, simple, brute-force "too simple to be incorrect" generic (program pattern or template), you have dozens, possibly hundreds of variations. Proving one correct doesn't help you prove the correctness of any of the others. Instead of having something so simple that there's obviously nothing wrong, it's so complex that anything wrong isn't obvious. This means additional time in testing, more resources for formal proof of correctness, and always more money.

Complex Software systems often fail on delivery, simply because of management rather than technical issues. Given enough time and money, everything could be tested and debugged. But often, the Time is set, it can't be altered. There is a fixed deadline (such as a launch window...) when the system must be in service. Adding additional reources doesn't help linearly, in fact, the point of diminishing returns is reached so quickly that "adding manpower to a late software project makes it later", as stated in the classic text, "The Mythical Man-Month".
This is just one of dozens of error-correction techniques that EAFTC pulls together into a single package. The result is much better efficiency: Without the EAFTC software, a computer based on consumer CPUs needs 100-200% redundancy to protect against radiation-caused errors. (100% redundancy means 2 CPUs; 200% means 3 CPUs.) With EAFTC, only 15-20% redundancy is needed for the same degree of protection. All of that saved CPU time can be used productively instead.

"EAFTC is not going to replace rad-hard CPUs," cautions Some. "Some tasks, such as life support, are so important we'll always want radiation hardened chips to run them." But, in due course, EAFTC algorithms might take some of the data-processing load off those chips, making vastly greater computer power available to future missions.
In my experience, saving computer time and power is not the problem. Compared with even a small communications module, a really complex triply-redundant huge chunk of computing power takes about 1% of the power budget, albeit 200-300% of the mass and about the same volume.

The amount of redundancy you need is given by the formula (2n+1), where n is the number of simultaneous faults. FedSat used triple redundancy, and a few techniques of my own devising such as error-correcting demons and heuristics for bitwise correction, to ensure that 2 errors would have to be close together in time, and in widely separated parts of the satellite, yet in exactly the same part of the memory map, to "fool" the error correction. Basically, anything that got past that would likely have wrecked the satellite in so many other ways, most of them likely fatal, that it didn't really matter.

What can I say - it's worked for 3 years continuously, dipping in and out of the South Atlantic Anomaly (a high radiation zone) 3 times a day, and has endured some of the worst solar weather and class-X flares ever recorded.

The point is, only one simple template was used, then automatically instantiated a few dozen times to deal with everything from stored telecommands to be executed when out of ground contact, to "housekeeping data" regarding error rates, battery voltages over time, and so on. Cost to design, test, and manage was minimal.

I'm all in favour of the "build it and see" approach used on EAFTC. But there are scaleability problems. If it were me, I'd see if I could have a much simpler universal 5x or even 7x redundancy in use for everything. OK, it's wasteful: but it does mean that when a micrometeorite hits the life support computer, you can use the geological analyser to take over without loss of reliability.

The savings in time and money would be partly offset by having to cope with an additional 2-3 kilos of equipment, and another kilo to power it. This tiny change could easily cost a million dollars in development resources, larger rocket etc. Mass and power all always at a premium. But it might save hundreds of millions in software and systems testing. Configuration management too. Who knows, a reliability analysis might show that with a "one size fits all" approach, fewer bespoke spares would be needed on long-duration missions. That means less mass, not more.

Friday, 18 November 2005

The Worst Sound in the World

Disco? No, even worse. You can vote for which one is the most atrocious over at Sound 101. I'd say "enjoy", but I don't think you will.

Thursday, 17 November 2005

Academic Misconduct : Saudi Style

From Arab News :
JEDDAH, 14 November 2005 — The controversial case of Muhammad Al-Harbi, a Saudi high school teacher accused of mocking religion, came to a surprising end on Saturday. Al-Harbi was sentenced to three years in prison and 750 lashes — 50 lashes per week for 15 weeks. The lashes are to be given in the public market in the town of Al-Bikeriya in Al-Qassim.

A number of 12th Grade students, along with some teachers from the same school, filed a lawsuit a year-and-a-half ago against Al-Harbi. He was accused of mocking Islam, favoring Jews and Christians, preventing students from performing ablutions. He was also charged with studying witchcraft. At the time, he was a chemistry teacher at Al-Fowailiq High School in the town of Ein Al-Juwa in Al-Qassim.

“This is a very cruel sentence,” Al-Harbi told Arab News. He explained over the phone that the students who filed the lawsuit had failed the monthly chemistry test. “They asked me to give them the exam again and when I refused, they went to the principal to complain but he upheld my decision,” he explained.

According to Al-Harbi, the students’ actions were triggered by some Islamic studies teachers who used the students’ anger at Al-Harbi and convinced them to file the lawsuit.

The reason for the Islamic studies teachers action has its roots five years ago when Al-Harbi joined the staff of Al-Fowailiq High School after graduating from King Saud University in Riyadh. Based on his academic record and extracurricular activities, the school principal appointed Al-Harbi as school activities organizer.

Deeply disturbed by the explosions at the Al-Hamra Compound in Riyadh in 2003, Al-Harbi felt it his duty as an educator to enlighten his students and warn them of terrorism and its consequences. He went to great lengths by talking to students, hanging anti-terrorism signs around the school and speaking against terrorism.

“The Ministry of Education has recently ordered all schools to lecture students on the dangers of extremism and terrorism in general, but I was a step ahead of their decision,” said Al-Harbi.

Apparently Al-Harbi’s actions and comments against terrorism upset a number of Islamic studies teachers known for their fundamentalist beliefs. After the Al-Hamra blast in Riyadh, Al-Harbi copied an article, “Cavemen Go to Hell” written by Saudi columnist Hammad Al-Salmi in Al-Jazirah newspaper, attacking terrorists and extremists. Al-Harbi posted the article on the school bulletin board but it was ripped off and torn to pieces.

The teachers, as one of the students’ fathers admitted to Al-Harbi, used to visit students in their homes, encouraging them to disobey Al-Harbi and calling him names. One of the Islamic studies teachers stopped Al-Harbi in a morning school assembly from speaking against Abdul Aziz Al-Muqrin, identified by the Saudi government as a terrorist and who was on the government’s list of wanted terrorists. The teacher told Al-Harbi that Al-Muqrin was a Muslim and that no matter what he had done, no one should speak against him.

“They told the students that I studied under secular teachers and thus I’m not to be trusted in any subject except for chemistry,” said Al-Harbi.

Abdul Rahman Al-Lahem, Al-Harbi’s lawyer, told Arab News that the sentence was illegal. “Any case that has to do with sacrilege must be heard in a special religious court and not in a regular one,” he explained. “ The judge heard them individually and did not give the defendant the right to interrogate the witnesses,” said Al-Lahem. He also refused to acknowledge Al-Lahem as the defendant’s lawyer. Al-Lahem will appeal the verdict 10 days from the date of the original sentence.

Strangely, the judge did not question anyone from the school except for the students and the teachers who filed the lawsuit. “I asked the court to talk to the principal and anyone from the school, but the judge refused,” said Al-Harbi.

One of the charges made against Al-Harbi was that he praised disbelievers. Al-Lahem said that this was a very broad statement without an exact meaning.

Another accusation made by the students and the teachers is that Al-Harbi mocked bearded men since many religious people are bearded. “That is just ridiculous,” Al-Lahem said, pointing out that Al-Harbi himself has a beard.

When Arab News called the school principal, he refused to make any comment beyond saying that he had been told by “higher authorities” to say nothing to the media.

The physical education teacher at the school, however, said he had known Al-Harbi as a decent, respectable, cooperative individual. “One of the students came to me today and told me that they really missed their chemistry teacher,” he said.

The Ministry of Education has transferred Al-Harbi from his teaching job to an administrative one at the governorate educational office in Ein Al-Juwa. When he contacted the ministry and asked why he was being moved, Al-Harbi failed to get a clear answer.
Puts the debate about ID in Kansas into perspective, doesn't it?

I fear that while Science teachers can be sentenced to long prison terms with torture for, amongst other things "Studying Witchcraft", at the behest of Religious instructors, we have a very large gap between Islam and the West. But a gap that shouldn't be narrowed by us becoming more like them. A gap of perhaps 450 years.

Well, at least it's "constroversial". There may be hope, at least, in the long term.

The Vatican Space Programme

A Space Post this one.

I've blogged in the past about various Nation's space programmes : Australia's, Nigeria's, The USA's, Russia's, China's... but never before about the Vatican's.

Hit Tip to Texas Best Grok

Wednesday, 16 November 2005

MIT's Consumer Guide to Tinfoil Helmets

As a service to the more progressive readers of this blog, may I draw your attention to this paper :

On the Effectiveness of Aluminium Foil Helmets: An Empirical Study

Ali Rahimi
(Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department, MIT)
Ben Recht
(Media Laboratory, MIT)
Jason Taylor
(Media Laboratory, MIT)
Noah Vawter
(Media Laboratory, MIT)

17 Feb 2005

Among a fringe community of paranoids, aluminum helmets serve as the protective measure of choice against invasive radio signals. We investigate the efficacy of three aluminum helmet designs on a sample group of four individuals. Using a $250,000 network analyser, we find that although on average all helmets attenuate invasive radio frequencies in either directions (either emanating from an outside source, or emanating from the cranium of the subject), certain frequencies are in fact greatly amplified. These amplified frequencies coincide with radio bands reserved for government use according to the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). Statistical evidence suggests the use of helmets may in fact enhance the government's invasive abilities. We speculate that the government may in fact have started the helmet craze for this reason.

Full report here.

Tuesday, 15 November 2005


From NPR's program, "This American Life", a 1-hour Audio Presentation well worth listening to. It could change your mind. Not the program, testosterone.
Stories of people getting more testosterone and coming to regret it. And of people losing it and coming to appreciate life without it. The pros and cons of the hormone of desire.
Personally, the first part sounds like a classic case of clinical depression caused by hormonal imbalance, rather than direct effects. But it still shows how you don't have to be unhappy to be dysfunctionally depressed (but it helps...). I'm no psychologist, but been there, done that when my metabolism went a little screwy.

The second part is about a Man born in the body of a woman, and his experiences when he started experiencing life with a blood chemistry that matched his brain's morphology. My own experiences, mirrored.

The third part is about Competition and Testosterone - and divisiveness.

The fourth part is an excruciatingly embarressing exercise by a mother who loves her 15 year old son very dearly, but clearly has no idea how hideous an ordeal she's putting him through.

Worth a listen to anyway. Requires Real Player.

Tasmania Explained

Over at BlueRocket. To any Taswegians, don't worry, they use a lot of pretty pictures :)

Monday, 14 November 2005

Kansas Kreationism

Science, as we commonly know the term, is now no longer to be taught in Kansas.
From the New York Times :
The fiercely split Kansas Board of Education voted 6 to 4 on Tuesday to adopt new science standards that are the most far-reaching in the nation in challenging Darwin's theory of evolution in the classroom.
Among the most controversial changes was a redefinition of science itself, so that it would not be explicitly limited to natural explanations.

The vote was a watershed victory for the emerging movement of intelligent design, which posits that nature alone cannot explain life's complexity. John G. West of the Discovery Institute, a conservative research organization that promotes intelligent design, said Kansas now had "the best science standards in the nation."
The vote came six years after Kansas shocked the scientific and political world by stripping its curriculum standards of virtually any mention of evolution, a move reversed in 2001 after voters ousted several conservative members of the education board.

A new conservative majority took hold in 2004 and promptly revived arguments over the teaching of evolution. The ugly and highly personal nature of the debate was on display at the Tuesday meeting, where board members accused one other of dishonesty and disingenuousness.

"This is a sad day, not just for Kansas kids, but for Kansas," Janet Waugh of Kansas City, Kan., one of four dissenting board members, said before the vote. "We're becoming a laughingstock not only of the nation but of the world."

Ms. Waugh and her allies contended that the board's majority was improperly injecting religion into biology classrooms. But supporters of the new standards said they were simply trying to open the curriculum, and students' minds, to alternative viewpoints.
Because "Science" in Kansas recognises supernatural, as well as natural, explanations for events. "Because God will it" is now a valid answer to any question of causation, such as why do things fall down, why does a changing electric current create a magnetic field, and why does the horizon appear curved.

Creationism by stealth, and soon Flat Earth theories too - it's allowed now. Pi equal to 3, why not?

So anyone thinking of going to Kansas - here's some stickers (PDF) for you to print out and stick on various devices in your possession.

as per order of the Board of
Education, November 8, 2005
Use of this device or substance
may require, imply, and/or endorse
the existence of one or more of the
following: chemistry; evolution;
electromagnetism; gravity;
mathematics; thermodynamics;

Sunday, 13 November 2005

Class of '75 - In Pictures

Click on pictures to enlarge.

Instant, unquestioning, and total acceptance. Well, not unquestioning: lots of questions, how does it feel, how did it happen, had I had "the op" yet... and congratulations. Always congratulations, and totally undeserved tributes to my courage. Whether from making the transition, or just polling up, I'm not sure. Both, I think.

But I had faith in these guys. And in Grammar as the one institution where I'd get acceptance, and good-natured well-wishing tolerance even from those who didn't quite understand.

I wrote before:
I guess I'll be giving the reputation for tolerance, diversity and a liberal education a bit of a test.
Being Grammar boys, of course they passed the test with High Distinctions, Summa Cum Laude.I mean, it's expected of them.

And I could really get used to having my drinks brought to me. Gallant too.

One thing though : What does a guy say to a woman when he realises she was the other 2nd-row forward on his Rugby team? And what does she say in return?

When I got back to the motel, I confess I did something most undignified for a woman my age, even a Geek Girl. I jumped up and down with Joy, squealing like a schoolgirl.

My cheek muscles are still aching from smiling so much on the long drive back from Sydney to Canberra.

I don't look too bad, even without makeup, do I? (Sound of Zoe doing the Happy Dance again)

Saturday, 12 November 2005

The Class of '75

Well, I'm driving the 200 miles to Sydney in about 10 minutes. I'm going to the reunion of the Class of 75 at my old High School.

No biggie, right?


Few schools have their own entry in Wikipedia.

Go read it. For those who are impatient, imagine a High School in the US that was the feeder school for Yale, which both George Washington, Walt Whitman, and half-a dozen recent presidents went to, along with many of the members of the Supreme Court. It's the equivalent. For UK readers, something along the lines of Eton, or Rugby.

Spouses are not invited, and dress is smart casual. I'll be wearing an ankle-length dress denim skirt, black knee boots, a gold belt and a black silk tunic. Plus an old school tie knotted highschool-girl-fashion just below the bust. Gold dangly earrings and a black bag to accessorise (the school colours are black and gold). No makeup apart from a little concealer.

My philosophy in dealing with Transition is not to let it interfere unduly with the rest of my life. I've been looking forward to this reunion for most of a decade, long before recent events of 7 months ago took a hold of my life, turned it upside down, and gave it a good shake.

Did you notice something about the school in the wikipedia article? I guess I'll be giving the reputation for tolerance, diversity and a liberal education a bit of a test.

It's a Boys school.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, 10 November 2005

My Tax Dollars At Work

And for once, they've been well-spent. From the ABC :
Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty says Australian police helped trace Azahari to the mountain hide-out in East Java.

He says it is no surprise that Azahari apparently activated a suicide bomb when Indonesian counter-terrorism police raided the site
The Prime Minister, John Howard, says the death of the man thought to be behind the Bali attacks would be a huge advance in the fight against terrorism.

Mr Howard has told Sky News if the reports are true, it is good news.

"It doesn't mean that JI is crippled, but it does mean that somebody who is believed to have been behind the two Bali attacks, the Marriott attack and the attack on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta may well have been taken out of the equation," he said.
Looks like the remains have been positively ID's from fingerprints too. Onya, AFP.

Wednesday, 9 November 2005

Moebius Gears

There's been entirely too much serious stuff on the blog just lately. Politics, Brains, a smidgin of Space, but nothing revealing the wondrous, surprising and amusing side of Life, The Universe, and Everything.

So here's a graphic from one of my favourite Interesting URL's, Mathworld.

You win some, you lose some

You Win Some :
US museums are going where schoolteachers are increasingly wary to tread, with a series of exhibitions championing evolution at a time when Charles Darwin's theory is under fire from creationists.
The exhibits include "Evolving Planet" at Chicago's Field Museum, "Darwin" at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and "Explore Evolution" which is being shown simultaneously at university museums in six midwest and southern states.
Judy Diamond, professor and curator of the Nebraska University State Museum which developed the "Explore Evolution" project, said the idea was very much a product of the current environment.

"We conceived of it as a response to the fact that evolution was not being taught in schools and that museums now have to take up the banner," Mr Diamond said.

Mr Diamond believes a gradual slide in teaching evolution over the past 30 years has led to the current state of affairs where some school districts are "systematically" seeking to reduce the emphasis on Darwin's theories.

Many other schools, she says, are simply reducing the amount of time spent on teaching evolution as a way of avoiding controversy.

"It's not that they don't want to teach it, it's just that they feel unsure of the amount of community support," she said.

In a Gallup poll released last month, 53 per cent of American adults agreed with the statement that God created humans in their present form exactly the way the Bible describes it.

Meanwhile 34 per cent stood by the intelligent design stance that humans evolved over millions of years from other forms of life and God guided the process, while 12 percent said humans have evolved from other forms of life and "God has no part."

Diamond said her project was aimed at addressing the apparent lack of a coherent education about evolution for both children and adults.

"They often don't have a clue what they are arguing about, or what they supporting and not supporting," she said.

While response to the exhibit has been overwhelmingly positive, around 10 per cent of feedback cards provided by the Nebraska museum have taken a critical stance.

"The theory of evolution should not be shown as it is not the truth," read one.

"That God created the world will be proved to evolutionists at the end of their life."
You Lose Some :
Revisiting a topic that exposed Kansas to nationwide ridicule six years ago, the state Board of Education approved science standards for public schools Tuesday that cast doubt on the theory of evolution.

The board's 6-4 vote, expected for months, was a victory for intelligent design advocates who helped draft the standards. Intelligent design holds that the universe is so complex that it must have been created by a higher powe

Brains, Gender, Humour, Pain, and possibly Depression

A piece from the BBC from 2003 I hadn't noticed before :
Men and women's brains respond to pain differently, researchers have found.

Scans showed parts of women's brains linked to emotion were stimulated when they felt pain.

But the researchers, from the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) found that, in men's brains analytical areas showed greater activity.
The UCLA researchers carried out positron emission tomography (PET) brain scans of 26 women and 24 men, while they experienced a small amount of pain.

Although there were some areas of the brain which were stimulated in both men and women, differences were seen between the sexes.

The female brain showed greater activity in limbic regions, which are emotion-based centres. In men, the cognitive regions, or analytical centres, showed greater activity.
Dr Bruce Naliboff, clinical professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences, at UCLA, added: "The reason for the two different brain responses may date back to primitive days, when the roles of men and women were more distinct."

He suggested the gender differences may have evolved as part of a more general difference in stress responses between men and women.

Men's cognitive areas may be more highly triggered because they would have had to make "fight-or-flight" decisions, while women would have reacted to threats by thinking about how they could protect their children.
Interesting. My own panic reaction is to become icy calm, to analyse, and to think about how best to protect the ones I love, regardless of my own safety. It's only afterwards I collapse in a screaming heap.

And now this one, again from the BBC :
Scientists have uncovered hard evidence of a gender divide when it comes to appreciating humour.

A Stanford University team monitored brain activity when men and women looked at funny cartoons.

They found areas of the brain involved in language processing, memory and generating reward feelings were more likely to be activated in women.

It is hoped the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study may provide insights into depression.
Lead researcher Professor Allan Reiss said: "The results help explain previous findings suggesting women and men differ in how humour is used and appreciated."

The prefrontal cortex, which is involved in language processing and memory, is known to play a role in humour appreciation.

And the Stanford team has shown that the mesolimbic reward centre - responsible for generating the positive feelings associated with events such as monetary gain - is also activated by humour.

The latest study used sophisticated scans to monitor the brains of 10 men and 10 women as they watched 70 black-and-white cartoons.

The researchers found similarities between the way that male and female brains respond to humour.

But some brain regions were activated more in women, including both the left prefrontal cortex and the mesolimbic reward centre.

The researchers say their findings suggest women place a greater emphasis on the language of humour, possibly employing a more analytical approach.

They also believe that the women in the study were less likely to expect the cartoons to be funny - so when they were, their pleasure centre lit up with greater intensity than their male counterparts.

Professor Reiss said: "Women appeared to have less expectation of a reward, which in this case was the punch line of the cartoon.

"So when they got to the joke's punch line, they were more pleased about it."

The researchers also found that the funnier the cartoon, the more the reward centre was activated in women.

That was not the case in men who seemed to "expect" the cartoons to be funny from the start.

Professor Reiss said the finding that women's reward centres might be more sensitive to emotional stimuli, if confirmed by follow-up studies, might explain why they appear to be more vulnerable to depression.

Professor Tonmoy Sharma, of the Clinical Neuroscience Research Centre in Dartford, Kent, said it was certainly the case that women were more likely to become depressed.

However, he told the BBC News website: "I would agree that women are much more analytical in terms of humour, but to extrapolate from this study, and draw conclusions about clinical depression is probably a step too far."
On a related note, there's a previous post of mine on gender-based differences in the brain, and depression.

I'd feel a lot more confident about the results and conclusions if the sample sizes weren't just in double digits.

An even more interesting thought occurs: how do transsexuals react? Do their brain functions correspond more closely with those of their self-dentified gender, or those of others sharing the same body morphology? There are certainly enough for a decent sample size. From Professor Emerita Lynn Conway :
Adding up the numbers of surgeries over these decades, we find that there are roughly 30,000 to 40,000 post-op transsexual women in the U. S. Of course some surgeries done by U.S. surgeons are on foreigners (perhaps 15%?). And some who've undergone SRS have passed away by now. However, the majority of post-op transsexuals had SRS within the past 15 years, and a high percentage of them are still living. TS's in the smaller group who underwent SRS in the 60's to mid-80's were mostly young - in their twenties and early thirties, and thus most of those women are also still alive. Even accounting for mortalities, Lynn estimates that the number of post-ops in the US is greater than 32,000.
Lynn estimates at least 3 to 5 times as many people suffer intense MtF transsexualism as those who have already undergone SRS. The reasons are obvious: Many transsexual people are unaware of the options and treatments for resolving the condition, and suffer in silence thinking there is no hope.
Tell me about it.
Many are terrified to "come out" and seek help for fear of social stigmatization. Many more are incapable of paying the high medical costs for transition. Thus there must be on the order of 100,000 to 200,000 UNTREATED cases of intense transsexualism in the U.S.
Based on personal experience - I believe her. In April this year, I wouldn't have appeared on the scope. I valued my marriage and my family far more than I valued myself, and anyway, it was impossible. It would have taken a miracle. I was born male, I would die male. Full stop, end of story.

The trouble is... no-one wants to do research on the subject. It's Taboo. It's also been hopelessly politicised. To some, it's a matter of Faith that it's a psychiatric condition. To others, it's seen as a "Lifestyle Choice" under persecution by the NeoCon Fascist BushHitler Zionazis. The Right doesn't want any research which would encourage such sicko freaks in their delusion. Many decent rightists' views on the subject are accurately expressed here
There is no such thing as a transsexual. There is no such thing as a man in a woman's body or a woman in a man's body. There are, however, some very sick people whose deep mental illness deserves our compassion and care. Any man who wants to have his genitalia surgically removed and some grotesque imitation of a female organ put in its place requires years of therapy and medication. Or, frankly, needs to put in a hard week's work fifty times a year so that he stops concocting neurotic nightmares and gets on with leading a meaningful life.
By the way, I've had some exceeding courteous e-mail correspondence with the author of that one, he's a thoroughly decent human being.

The Left distrusts Science, they're more comfortable with Pyramidology, Chakras, Spiritual healing and so on. Anything that might conceivably show that Transsexuality is a Psychiatric illness is forbidden. Because what next, a reversion to the old days where Homosexuality was a Psychiatric Illness? As for physical differences between the way that the different genders think, that is so politically incorrect, it's unnacceptable. What next, removing Female Sufferage?

Personally, if I'm Delusional, I'd really like to know that, OK? The evidence against that proposition, poor though it is, I find convincing: Transsexuality is a congenital abnormality, cause unknown, that results in a Female-pattern brain in a male body, or a Male-pattern brain in a female one. It's becoming pretty clear as we do more research that there are genuine differences in the way Men and Women think, and that these are related to cellular response to chemicals, neural arrangements, and even gross brain structures. That a minor hiccup could occur during brain development in the womb, perhaps caused by a hormonal glitch, or environmental factors such as administration of diethylstilboestrol during pregnancy seems very plausible. The more we know about gender differences in the brain, the more it seems that the existence of some degree of biologically caused transsexuality in the population is inevitable.

However... I'm not exactly objective here. I have too big an emotional stake in the issue to consider myself unbiased.

Then there's the peculiarity that some people with transsexuality have their body change underneath them, without treatment. Difficult to explain, that. But rare enough for it to be ignored, right?

Tuesday, 8 November 2005


That's how much it will cost me to get the surgery that I want done.


Aussie Dollars, so only about $55,000 US. And a lot of that is airfare, and accomodation overseas. But it's still my entire life savings, pretty much.

Some of it, about a third, is so I could at least look relatively normal, and not "ambiguous" in the bath. Oh yes, and so I might just possibly have something like a normal love life in future. A shot at it, anyway. Without it, many jurisdictions would still classify me as "male" anyway, it's not really optional, it's a neccessity.

The rest could be classed as an investment: getting contracts isn't easy, and although I look OK enough to go shopping and so on, no-one could call me beautiful. I'm cynical enough to believe that a woman whose face doesn't actually stop clocks has a distinct advantage over an equally qualified one with a "nice personality". It's possible, though unlikely (I hope) that without some facial surgery, I may end up being unemployable. Overqualified, too specialised, too odd... I'm getting that now.

But the real reason, the only reason if I'm honest with myself, is that I looked so awful for so long. I already look adequate, just about. But it's possible that one day, if I just had the money, I'd look Good. Not just Good, Very Good for a woman my age. Recompense for 32 years of suffering since puberty, in a body that was OK for a guy, but nothing remotely like any other girls was. It would be.... healing.

There are also certain relics of childhood experiences I'd long forgotten, that really need fixing by a facial surgeon. The crushed brow sinus. The nose broken in 2 places. Both from incidents before I was 9 years old. Transsexuals are different, they don't fit in in either gender group, and tend to suffer for it at school. I'd forgotten that - I had to.

The stuff that happened later, on the bus trips home from high school, the cigarette burns to my arms and hands, the ligature marks on my neck where I'd been choked unconscious, they all healed without scars. Well, without ones that showed, anyway. The time three boys had me trapped in the back of a boat, and just took turns spitting on me for about an hour, that didn't even hurt my body in the slightest. I'd forgotten about that too, I had to to keep up the male act. To convince myself that despite my inner feelings of difference, my body was male, I had to play that role. Besides which, things like that happen to everyone, right?

No, it's only the beatings that left damage a surgeon can correct. Ones inflicted by little kids who didn't know any better, they just knew I was different. I did too, just didn't know why, then.

Pipe Dreams. I can't afford it. Spit again. $25,000 I can afford. $70,000 would wipe me out, no retirement savings, no safety net for the thin times, no extra cash for my son for school excursions, or a bike, or a new VR-set... I can do without it. I have to, no matter how much it hurts. Oh well, worse things happen at sea.

Now would be a good time to hit the Tip Jar, by the way. I've already had nearly $300 contributed towards my $5,000 of out-of-pocket medical expenses so far, and that genuinely helped. My thanks to those who donated, you didn't have to, but it's really appreciated.

You know what the really scary and tragic thing is? Compared to nearly every other woman on the planet in a similar position, I've had it easy. I'm quite genuinely lucky to have gotten off so lightly. So many can't afford the $25,000. Many can't even afford the $50 a month for the hormones.

And more than a few of the youngest can afford it, but only by selling their bodies.

I've had it easy, and I know it. Rather than bemoaning my troubles, I should thank my lucky stars. Because next to the bith of my son, and my meeting my partner, this strange, bizarre, and miraculous thing that's happened is the best thing that's ever happened to me in my life. That sorta puts things in perspective.

SimTerror 05 - The Return

From the SimTerror05 Yahoo Group :
Bomb blasts rock Sydney

Reports are starting to come in of two powerful explosions in central Sydney.

Fifty minutes ago, as the commuter rush hour was getting underway, a commuter train in the central city which had just commenced its run was derailed after one of its carriages exploded.

Emergency services were quickly at the scene, and an operation is now underway to rescue trapped survivors.

Sources have spoken about several bodies being taken away, but details are not being released until next of kin are located and informed.

Some of the bodies are said to be unrecogniseable.

Meanwhile, only twenty minutes ago, another explosion occured at the Macquarie Center, a popular shopping centre in the city's North Shore.

No details about that incident are available, but we will bring you the latest information as soon as it becomes available.

Third explosion

A third explosion has just occured in Sydney.

A school bus which just a few hours ago had been full of children on their way home from a a rural high school just outside the city was badly damaged in a blast.

It was parked at the bus company's premises in Sydney's far west.

There are no reports of anyone being hurt.

Meanwhile, police investigating the two earlier explosions in the city have released security camera footage of what they describe as "a person of interest" to their inquiry, who is seen placing an object in a rubbish bin outside a Starbuck's coffee shop in the Macquarie Shopping Center earlier today.

The footage is unclear, although the person is a male, of medium height, with a beard. He is wearing tacksuit pants and a jacket with a hood pulled over his head.

The explosion at the shopping center badly damaged the coffee shop, and four customers have been rushed to hospital.

One is described as being in a serious condition, while the others have relatively minor cuts and burns.

Emergency services are still at the cordoned off scene of the train derailment on the North Shore which is believed to have been caused by an explosion in one of the carriages.

Police have confirmed that at least three people are dead, and a dozen seriously injured.

They say they are still reviewing security camera footage from several railway stations on the train's route.

Any member of the public with information about today's events are asked to contact the New South Wales Police.

More reports as they come to hand.
That was the simulation scenario - before the London bombings.

From Today's News :
Queensland Nationals senator Barnaby Joyce said today's raids justified last week's Senate recall to change the wording of a particular piece of anti-terror legislation.

"I think there's a clear connection between the laws that have been passed by the senate and its effect," Senator Joyce told reporters.

"These people were, obviously, from what we've heard in the news, well advanced in a plan to attack one of the train stations in Melbourne or Sydney.

"If they had been successful in that, everybody would have been asking the question 'why didn't we stop them?'. Well, they have been stopped."

Senator Joyce said he had not been concerned that the terrorists were tipped off by last week's government action.

"I'm sure that the police are competent enough to keep an eye on them and they wouldn't have let them out of their sight," he said.
Now another quote from the Simulation :

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Terror suspect
Date: Mon, 11 Apr 2005 21:08:23 +1000
From: Bruce Hill

Mr Prime Minister,

The NSW Police Commissioner reports they've received a tip from a member of the public.

She recognises the man in identikit picture as her neighbour in a terrace in Paddington.

He's a Muslim, keeps to himself.

Our record indicate the property is rented by Omar Masri, an Iraqi immigrant who has lived in Australia for seven years.

He is an Australian citizen, employed by the local council as a maintainence worker, no convictions.

Preliminary inquiries indicate he's devout and attends an inner city mosque regularly.

The neighbour says he's home right now, she can see his lights are on, and he's watching television.

Do we move in and make an arrest?



-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Terror suspect (EXERCISE SIMTERROR05)
Date: Mon, 11 Apr 2005 22:27:06 +1000
From: Alan and Carmel Brain
To: Bruce Hill

> Do we move in and make an arrest?

This is now under (really High classification - compartmentalised - but I don't want to trigger an echelon alert)

No, surveillance only.

URGENT!!!! Tap his wires (authorisation under ASIO act - section 11, exigencies), especially digital comms.
Get an arrest and search warrant under anti-terrorism legislation. And a search warrant for the Mosque, but do not execute it yet. Put it under surveillance, with photos of everyone entering or leaving.

Get a Muslim member of ASIO to go inside, with a chemical sniffer.

Remember to check the sewers, and catch all contents from the suspect's house.

Do a drive-by with radiation detectors. No sign of this yet, but we can't be too paranoid.

Find out where he's been working in the last few months, a council worker could have access to water supplies etc.


We want to catch the network, not just one member. They'll have a cell structure. We need to get the other cells.

Also, he may be innocent. We're going to make a lot of Muslims unhappy before this is over, let's not do so unless we have to.

I'm delegating authority to people on the ground from here. Act as you see fit, within the policy above, as things may have to be done quickly.
You'll have my full support. Get an SAS snatch squad ready, just in case.

Also : talk to neighbour, I'll need the phone number to give her my personal thanks. Ask if she wants a guard with her, and can we use her home as an observation Post? It's the little things that matter.

Please preppend SIMTERROR05 to subject line from now so the real guys don't get too antsy.

Now back to Reality :
The first details of the charges against the 16 terror suspects were outlined in a Melbourne court today.

Victorian police had more than 240 hours of phone intercepts in which the group discussed plans to kill Australian civilians, the court heard.
And more :
A Danish exchange student living in Renown Avenue, Ulrich Soerensen, 17, said he noticed police as he left home for school this morning.

He also noticed police had been watching the home for some time.

"In the last few months police cars have been driving up and down the road, stopping at the end of the road," Mr Soerensen said.

He had also seen a policeman with binoculars looking into the house.

"There's a lot going on over there, a lot of different people," Mr Soerensen said

Tim Blair is all over this story, as it develops.

But I think the developers of the SimTerror05 exercise over at Silent Running deserve some kudos for getting it right. And I have to say that I think I played my own role as Australian PM reasonably adequately, even though I do say so myself. Tim Blair was supposed to play that role, but alas, had other commitments at the time. No doubt he would have done better. But better still appears to be a certain John Howard.

Monday, 7 November 2005

Oestrogen and MicroHelens

1 Helen is the amount of feminine attractiveness required to launch a thousand ships.

The MilliHelen is the amount required to launch one.

Given the distinct lack of shipbuilding around the place, I think the most practical measure of feminine beauty is the microhellen - defined as the amount required to float your boat, so to speak.

That brings me to a Brain link, courtesy of the inestimable Fred Kiesche of The Eternal Golden Braid.
"Feminine beauty, the subject of philosophical and artistic musings for millennia, can be predicted by something as basic as hormones –in women, but not men. Researchers at the University of St Andrews in Fife, UK, have found that women’s facial attractiveness is directly related to their oestrogen levels.

Miriam Law Smith and colleagues photographed 59 women, aged between 18 and 25, every week for six weeks. On each occasion, they provided a urine sample for hormone analysis and gave information on where they were in their menstrual cycle. None of the women wore make-up, nor were they taking the contraceptive pill.

The researchers then selected the photograph of each woman that had been taken at the time of her highest urine-oestrogen level. As expected, this correlated to the point of ovulation in the women’s menstrual cycles. These photographs were rated by 14 men and 15 women, also aged 18 to 25, for attractiveness, health and femininity.

The group also rated two composite face images. One composite was an amalgamation of the 10 women with the lowest peak-oestrogen levels, while the other image was a combination of the 10 women with the highest levels (see image).
Of course there may be an easier way - faking it. A further study by Law Smith's group found that when women wore make-up the correlation between perceived attraction and oestrogen levels was completely masked, because make-up improved appearance."
Plastic surgery can also help, especially for those whose puberty didn't quite go the way we would have liked it to.

Sunday, 6 November 2005

Scotty's Pasta Sauce

I think I will irregularly blog recipes on Sunday. This one was cooked up (so to speak) in Germany by a colleague of mine, Scotty M. He was on an Australian Junior Engineer's salary, and malnutrition was a distinct danger, as that was well below the German poverty line in 1989.

Of neccessity, he came up with a nutritious meal whose ingredients were rather cheap in Bremen. I've played around with it a bit over the years, but it's still basically his recipe, and the best pasta sauce I know.

The very best bit is that it's quick to make from a standing start. The cooking times at each stage give you just enough time to prepare the ingredients for the next. It's best if you're not too fussy about exact quantities, or sizes of the vegetables used in the ingredients. That way every time you cook it it will be subtly different, and you can experiment with different proportions till you find one that's most to your taste.

* Pour a good sized splodge of olive oil into a frypan, and turn up the heat.
* Put on at least a liter of water on a high heat, to cook the pasta.
* Thinly slice (as in to the thickness of potato chips) 2 Zucchinis, and put them into the heated oil, which should be sizzling.
* Take one red, one yellow, and one green Capsicum (Bell Pepper in the US), and julienne them (cut them into slices the size of potato straws or thereabouts), and then add them to the pan.
* Take two onions, peel, and slice thickly, and then add them to the pan.
* By now the water should be boiling : add some salt, then a packet of multicoloured Farfalle (Butterfly or Bowtie Pasta). Egg, Spinach and Carrot pasta is best.
* Take two tomatoes, and quarter them. Add them to the pan. These are used to judge when the rest is cooked, when the skins fall off, the sauce is ready.
* Take a handful of mushrooms, slice them, and add them to the pan.
* Now add a good sized slather of light cream, or sour light cream. Stir well, and reduce the heat to a simmer.
* Add a pouring of white Vin Ordinaire, that last 1/4 bottle of Moselle that's been sitting in the fridge for a few days works quite well.
* Check that the pasta is Al Dente, and continually stir the contents of the saucepan. It should be just boiling, and the sauce thickening.
* As soon as the pasta is Al Dente, drain it.
* By now the skins should be coming off the tomatoes, and the cream and vegetable mix should be the consistency of a thin porridge or thick soup.

Serve, either the pasta on a plate with the sauce on top, or the sauce in a separate cruet.

The Zucchini should be crisped and slightly caramelised, the onions sweet, and the red-green-yellow colours of the sauce match the red-green-offwhite colour of the pasta.

The sauce is good enough to have on its own. It's vegetarian too, but for confirmed ominivores, a half-rasher of bacon thinly sliced into match-sized pieces and added with the onion works very well. Don't overdo it though. Similarly, a thinly sliced clove of garlic or two added late, with the mushrooms, is a nice variation.

Bon Apetit