Friday, 28 November 2008

A Personal Thanksgiving

I'm Australian, so we don't have the peculiarly USAian custom of eating ethnic foods of various varieties - native birds and native berries, not forgetting chimerae like the Turducken.

By I have my own personal Thanksgiving. It was entirely out of pure, blind luck that I kept my mouth shut when young. I didn't know how transsexuals were treated - or rather, maltreated and mistreated - in the 60's and 70's. Had I known, I would have been terrified. And the mistreatment continues to a lesser extent.

From The Gender Gulag at GIDreform.
In 1995, Dr. Deidre McCloskey, a renowned professor of economics at the University of Illinois, Chicago, was taken from her home by sheriff’s deputies with “a warrant for arrest for mental examination.” Dr. McCloskey was a transsexual woman who had come out of the closet to her family prior to social transition, Deidre’s sister, a psychologist, held intolerant views of gender diversity and, like Mrs. Phelps’ nineteenth-century husband, was easily able to procure a civil commitment to a psychiatric ward.

Dr. McCloskey was incarcerated not once but twice at her sister’s insistence.
Deidre was interrogated by psychiatrists who displayed utter ignorance about gender dysphoria and the transition process. She was labeled as “manic,” resulting from “latent homosexuality,” decades after the American Psychiatric Association had removed same-sex orientation from the classification of mental illnesses. One psychiatrist demanded, “Are you a homosexual?” “Do you wish to become one?” When Deidre responded “no,” that she was attracted to women, the doctor was incredulous. Reflecting old stereotypes confusing sexual orientation with gender identity, he responded, “Well, then, why are you doing this?”

To regain her freedom, Dr. McCloskey was forced to pay $8000 in legal fees and, astonishingly, was billed $3000 by the hospitals that falsely imprisoned her.
That was 1995. But before then, it was much, much worse. When I was a girl.
April’s “treatments” included drugging her with ether while doctors exacted, “Why do you want to be a woman?” Later, the interrogations were punctuated with sodium pentathol injections. Ashley was given massive doses of male hormones. Finally, she was placed in a public ward and administered electroconvulsive therapy.
Phyllis Burke, author of Gender Shock: Exploding the Myths of Male and Female, [4] told the heartbreaking story of Jamie, a transsexual woman who survived fifteen years of hospitalization from age six. “Jamie did not do boy things, and would not lie about it,” Burke explains. Admitted in the late 1950s, Jamie was drugged and given numerous electroconvulsive shock treatments over the span of her imprisonment:
“The treatments never became less painful, and there was nothing more painful than the shock, not even the rapes by the male patients, not even Mother and Father never returning.”
At twenty years old, following an extremely painful ECT treatment, Jamie escaped the institution and made her way to San Francisco and transition to an affirmed life. Jamie asked Ms. Burke to find as many children like her as she could and write about their stories,
“No one is talking about them, … but there are still kids in the hospitals.”

I could so easily have been one of them...
Harsh punishment of gender variant youth occurs in outpatient as well as residential settings. Dr. Arianna Davis today is an advocate for trans and intersex communities and GID reform. Though born with an intersex condition and expressing a strong female identity at a very early age, she was assigned male and later diagnosed as mentally ill for not comporting to that assignment. Arianna was subjected to a gender-reparative therapy regimen at UCLA in the 1980s:
“I was subjected to forced testosterone injections and used as a study subject against my wishes. These things happened (under the physical beatings and punishment -recomended by a therapist of a reparative mindset- the urging of my father and the all too eager compliance of UCLA doctors and researchers).”
Dr. Davis’ story raises the point, a painful memory to so many of us, of how physical violence from parents of gender variant children is encouraged by intolerance from the mental health professions – what has been called, “the sissy-whupping method.”
It wasn't just the children who were the victims here. Parents who dearly loved their children and were terribly distressed by their unusual, apparently abnormal, behaviour were acting out of ignorance, and the best of intent. They consulted the best professionals, the experts in their fields, and were commanded in no uncertain terms to torture their children "for their own good". To physically and mentally abuse them, despite their personal heartbreak, if they were to be responsible parents. How many of these parents have suffered the tortures of hellish guilt as the result? How many children have been estranged, have grown up to hate rather than love them? How many have suicided? And how many parents became brutalised and thuggish to their other children too?
Sadly, the APA never discouraged analogous gender-reparative therapies attempting to change gender identity or suppress gender expression. Indeed, the dictum of “First, do no harm,” does not seem to apply to the treatment of gender variant people within American psychiatry. Nor do the bounds of human compassion and decency, when it comes to enforcing conformity to assigned birth sex. For example, Dr. Ron Langevin of the University of Toronto Clarke Institute of Psychiatry (today known as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) promoted inhumane aversion treatment of cross-dressing individuals assigned male at birth in his 1983 book, Sexual Strands: Understanding and Treating Sexual Anomalies in Men.
Reminiscent of a scene from Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Langevin described chemical aversion therapy to “cure” cross-dressing,
“In chemical aversion therapy, the patient is first administered nausea inducing drugs. When he indicates that he feels sick, his favorite female clothes used for crossdressing are presented. He should touch them and look at them as best he can. Then he is overwhelmed by the need to vomit. The clothes are withdrawn and the procedure repeated several hours later.”
Next, he noted the advantages of “electrical aversion” in offering greater “control” over timing. He described the treatment of a patient.
“The conditioning stimuli were pictures of women wearing panties which were followed by the unconditioned stimulus, electric shock. The shock level was set so the patient found it so uncomfortable, he wanted it stopped. In addition to seeing pictures, he was instructed to handle panties and to imagine himself wearing them. After 41 sessions, he said he was no longer troubled by the “fetish” but a month later, it spontaneously recovered.”
You see... it didn't work. They knew it didn't work. So they upped the currents, almost to the point of charring the flesh. This wasn't "ECT", electro-convulsive therapy under anaesthetic, the idea was to intentionally inflict pain. To Torture into compliance. Not in one session, or two, or three, but in dozens of torture sessions, 41 in the case mentioned. And it still didn't work.

What they would have done about someone like me, who wasn't particularly interested in female attire, I don't know. Tortured me until I fit a recognised diagnostic pattern which they could then attempt to "cure"? Stranger things happened. No, I think they would have tried something like this, something I know I would have been vulnerable to. I had a mild taste of it, you see, with the first "expert" I consulted, back in July 2005.
Finally, Dr. Langevin introduced a newer form of “shame aversion therapy” used on a “transvestite:”
“the patient was required to crossdress before a disinterested group of men and women who watched him without reaction or comment. … In this case, shame replaces electric shock … the patient was evidently experiencing shame. He was in tears as he crossdressed and had a look of anguish on his face. He attempted suicide the following day according to the investigator.”
I had the only 15 seconds of suicidal ideation I've ever had in my life after a "mental health professional" harangued me at high volume the day after I went "fulltime". Two days after I was threatened with rape because I no longer "passed" as male in my normal attire.

I was told by this "expert" how much my behaviour was damaging my child, and commanded to cease taking hormones immediately. Except of course, I wasn't taking any... and if my continued existence was damaging my son, well, you can see where my thought processes were going. Had my hormone levels been remotely normal, I would have recognised his misjudgment immediately, and ignored his views. As it was, it took a while. Had I been less than emotionally healthy, yes, it could have been a fatal error on his part. As it was, within 24 hours I'd recovered.

I don't blame (well, not overmuch) some medical professionals for being ignorant of the issues. The field is fast evolving, we are a minority, and few will have seen more than one or two of us amongst the delusional, the attention-seekers, and the just plain selfish. But I do blame any medic in any area where they consider it quite usual to kill a proportion of their patients. And that is what they were doing, driving them to suicide with "cruel and unusual punishment" for committing the crime of not fitting their theories.
It is time for the APA and the mental health professions to extend an apology to all who have been imprisoned or traumatized in the course of these treatments.
I'm not sure it is. I do feel though, and feel strongly, that an in-depth and very public investigation of past treatment should be conducted. Not so much a "Nuremberg" looking to punish the guilty, but an inquisitorial fact-finding inquiry into what has been done in the past, and what all too often continues to be done to children, right here and now.

The apology can come later. First comes the acknowledgement of the crimes, and most importantly, ceasing to commit them.

And I am giving the most heartfelt thanks that I concealed everything. I lucked out.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Today's Battle

From CafePharma - the website for pharmaceutical sales professionals. All posts have been moderated, and passed as acceptable.

And that is what makes the following posts all the worse.
Hello my fellow Novartians. Aren't you excited about the November 20th Holiday of and for Transgender Day of Remembrance. Are you kidding me? Have we as a company and a nation lost our f*cking minds to allow this sh*t. So tell me, what am I to remember? I am confused. But wait, that's what this day is all about anyway, confusion! Remebrance? I'm certain guys like Patton, Omar Bradley, Schwarzkopf, and for you unread mullafukas, Lt. General Chesty Puller, I'm certain they would make certain these homosexual deviants would be made to feel, well, nice, in a pair of lace panties somewhere along the way. When are we as RED BLOODED AMERICANS going to stand up and say "enough of the politically correct horse shit" and tell these queers to go straight to hell. And do not tell me I shouldn't say these things.....I have the right and it is protected by the first amendment and the notion of FREE SPEECH. Yeah , you have the right to take your cobb and send it home the way you choose......Transgender? You gotta be sh*ttin' me......I think Thursday, every bad ass dude in the company should go straight bitch when we make our calls.....the works, dress, panties, wigs, heels, thong and schlong.........damn. Continue to make your one or two calls a day for these fruitcakes and enjoy the check.....I am too damn country to understand this one. Anyone else feel the same?
It's not a "Holiday" of course, no time off work or anything. But mere facts don't mean much to such people when they express their opinions.
When are we celebrating Beastiality day or Pediphile day? Afterall, my sexual orentations shouldn't be descriminated against!
Perhaps your poor spelling should be though, especially in someone selling pharmaceutical products, where a mis-spelt order could conceivably kill someone.
Hello! Uneducated bigot here.
I'm just curious as to why a particular group of people would get their own day of the year to celebrate the fact that they put other guy's dicks in their mouths and asses? Doesn't really seem to me to be something to celebrate, but rather something to make others nauseous. It's freakin' disgusting. I hope you guys enjoy the loads that are shooting on your face on transgender day. Just make sure to wash all of it out of your hair.
I get the feeling that some of these sales representatives aren't just ignorant (and proud of it), but are obsessed with sex. Can you say "projection"?
How about some cheese with your whine. It still makes no sense why such a day is needed. People who live alternate lifestyles want equality, then beg for a special day. You cant have it both ways.
Just to remind everyone - the Transgender Day of Remembrance is not a "celebration". It is not about sexuality, homo- or otherwise. It is the one day of the year where we commemorate our dead - because no-one else does. We don't "beg" for a special day, nor do we ask any others to take note of what we do. It is a very private affair for us, one where outsiders may join if they wish, but we neither encourage nor discourage their taking part. It is our day, the only one we have. A solemn day of Remembrance. But it seems that killing us is not enough - we must be blamed for bleeding on the carpet and spoiling it.
He's right in that regard, the last sentence. In many parts of the world, the police are far more likely to actively take part in the massacre, rather than turn a blind eye. And in many others, not to investigate too throughly, for when a Transgender person is butchered, they mark it NHI - "No Human Involved".

Many would-be slayers know this. They take advantage of it, knowing that even if they get caught, odds are still pretty good that the local law enforcement people will be "sympathetic", and if not, jurors will be. And that is why Federal "hate crimes" laws are needed, to allow the financing of investigations where the local constabulary may be less than conscientious in following up, or even complicit. To at least track the extent of the problem, something not done in the USA today.

I must admit though that the most disquieting thing is that the idiotic malicious obscenity expressed in the post is deemed acceptable conduct for "pharmaceutical sales professionals". It makes you wonder exactly what stuff they're peddling, and whether it's genuine or fake. Because from their posts, they'd be just as happy selling life-saving drugs, snake-oil, or mis-labelled toxic sludge to make a buck.

UPDATE: The thread has now been deleted - I guess they realised that expressing their opinions reflected poorly on their employers.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

DNA and Marigolds

From the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research here in Australia.

Two and two are four
Four and four are eight
Eight and eight are sixteen
Sixteen and sixteen are thirty-two
Inchworm, inchworm
Measuring the marigold
You and your arithmatic
You'll probably go far
Inchworm, inchworm
Measuring the marigold
Seems to me you'd stop and see
How beautiful they are
But you see... to me, the measurements are part of their beauty. There is so much more to a Marigold than a pretty flower. There are worlds of fractal dimensions in their DNA, as above , so below. There is even more Beauty within than is apparent to a superficial glance.

Marigold Mandala from Beliefnet

But while contemplating the numinous, just remember what flowers grow well in. There's a lot of it around.

An extremely deep dive into the mandelbrot zoom. If the final frame were the size of your screen, the full set would be larger than the known universe.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008


From a comment on another post, this article about Barramundi.
The Barramundi species, like many other fish, are asexual, and undergoes a sex change during its life history, with all fish commencing life as males then undergoing a sex change to become females.
Well, well. More on Piscine Sequential Hermaphroditism in Hormones and Animal Social Behavior by Elizabeth Adkins-Regan.

Monday, 24 November 2008


From SheWired, an account I could have written myself. Only the minor details differ.
Although she identifies as a transsexual female, Wilson maintains she’s “not going to shy away from the fact that I spent the first 47 years of my life pretending to be a man. That experience in part made Ashley Wilson the woman she is right now. I like to think God gave us the global view, to sort of see both sides of the fence.”
47 years... and yes, it has given me a similar perspective, especially when it comes to Feminist issues.
In her male guise, Wilson parlayed a BS in Journalism from Temple University and an MS in Library and Information Science from Drexel University into a 25-year career as a “very successful” fundraising specialist serving nationally recognized nonprofit organizations.
For me it was a BSc in Computer Science from Sydney University, and a MInfoTech(with distinction) from Charles Sturt.
She may have spent 47 years in the guise of a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant man, but Wilson insists, during that time she “never realized just how privileged they are, and how the world caters to them. I was your classic blue blood republican WASP in a three-piece power suit and I completely repudiate that world now. I went to the polls on [election day] and I voted for Barak Obama!”
WASP does not have the same connotations here. Yes, I partook fully of male privilege. I wasn't talked over at meetings; it was assumed I knew what I was doing unless proven otherwise; and there are a thousand and one little things, some of which I'd observed with incredulity and disgust at the way other women were treated, but most of which I was completely unaware of. As unaware as a fish is of water. In Australia, there's not the same racial past that there is in the US, and we don't take religion nearly as seriously. In many places, churchgoing is comparatively rare, and not going to church is quite normal for more than half the population. Of those who do identify as Christian, the largest denomination (by a whisker) is Catholicism, with Anglicanism a close second. Conga-Metho-Presos - the Uniting Church - also has a presence, but Baptists are probably outnumbered by Lutherans. Both would be outnumbered by Jews and even Buddhists. Given that a third of the population was born overseas, and many of the other 2/3 are of Irish descent, "Anglo" doesn't mean as much either. It's not taken nearly as seriously.

Perhaps it's because of that that I don't repudiate my past, not completely. I still vote Liberal (mainly), which in Australia means right of centre. I'm hoping the policy shifts to the centre in social issues (which would put it to the Left of the Leftists, who contain a lot of very socially conservative traditional Irish Catholics). I'm trying to make "compassionate conservative" not the oxymoron that it seems to have become. Anyway, onwards.
Brought up in privilege and comfort, Wilson admits “when I transitioned, it was such an incredible experience to…hear the stories of my fellow transgender people and realize just how insulated I had been from the world.”

She met less fortunate trans women, who were, Wilson says, “like broken human beings; I mean they just had horrible lives. And to hear them talk about their suicide attempts, and having to prostitute themselves…it makes you so angry.”

“I never would’ve imagined that at the age of 50, I would feel this way, that I would have become so—radicalized, and left wing,” says Wilson now. What she heard propelled Wilson to “do something,” and she asserts, “I’m determined, before I’m finished that I am going to make a difference for us in the world.
Yes. What can I say but Yes and again Yes. Now most of the really terrible stories I know of are from overseas. The situation in Australia is not terribly good, but at least we have reasonable unemployment, medical benefits, and disability pensions. We're not terribly good, but most other places are terrible, and some worse than that. I suppose Australia in that regard is already Left wing, at least, compared to the US. Though to the right of much of Europe.

One thing I am aware of though. I was privileged, and continue to be so, though in different ways. My family remains intact, though my marriage has suffered a strange sea-change. The Love remains. I have support through the University, and the opportunity to reach out to medical and other students. To make a difference. Radicalised? Yes, I guess I have been.
“When you transition,” Wilson contends, “it almost forces you to become an activist because there’s no other way you can survive. You have to stand up for yourself, everywhere. You get tired of it. Like why does it have to be hard all the time?
Delete "almost". I've had it easy though, with relatively few problems (apart from those with the Passport Office...). No, my Activism is because I can do no other. I've seen and heard horrors I never dreamed were possible. As a conservative, I believe in personal responsibility, and that means that if you see such horrors, you are personally responsible for doing something about them. Even if you hate "activism". Even if all you want is a quiet life. Even if it means having to explain oneself repeatedly to one's erstwhile political allies, and being ostracised by those who hold similar ideals, but assume that you have to be Leftist like they are. The only thing more improbable in anyone's mind than a Conservative who is a Transsexual Feminist, is a Transsexual Feminist who is Conservative. Ok, so technically I'm Intersexed rather than Transsexual, but I make no apology for not fitting neatly into anyone else's definitions. Close enough, and the one area where I do fit neatly, that of the category "woman", well it took me some time to recognise that myself. But I digress.
As a Board member for Trans Kids Purple Rainbow Foundation (, Wilson hopes that media exposure will translate to funding for research and education about transgender youth.

“Anything we can do to help these children I see as sort of our duty and our gift to the next generation,” enthuses Wilson, who recalls “setting off a fire storm,” herself as a toddler insisting, “I’m not a boy, I’m a girl.”

“I know what I went through when I was that age. How lonely and scared and confused I was and how the world so beat up on me, to the point where I had to lie about everything, even to myself about the truth and try and try to fit in where I could never fit in—as a boy. People looked at me and saw an extremely effeminate boy and they assumed I was gay. And they beat the crap out of me because of it.”

“If we can keep these children from having to go through [those] kind of experiences,” Wilson argues now, “I think that would be worth something.”
I was always built like a tank, nothing remotely effeminate about me. Merely feminine, and I took great pains to hide that. The body helped - though I still had experiences with violence when young that quite literally scarred me for life. Grade school rather than High School though. Much of that was of my own making to some extent - I reacted to smaller children being bullied by larger ones with the same ferocity as a mother tiger defending her cubs. It was only luck that I didn't end up being the equivalent of a tiger skin rug.

The same thoughts and feelings influence me now. We must do something for the children. I can't help the young girl that was me, but I can help those in the same situation today. In fact, I can't not help them, to the meagre limits of my ability, it's not in me to say "let someone else handle it...". It never was.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Weblog Awards

Nominations are now open for the 2008 Weblog awards.

Please enter nominations for your favourite categories, such as Australian and New Zealand, Science, Up and coming, LGBT, Health and Medical Issues etc etc. To name a few picked entirely at random.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Those not on the List

Mercedes Allen
One shocking suicide, which occurred around the time of the Transgender Day of Remembrance last year, had one transwoman, who had been regularly and repeatedly raped by the local police and who was required to return to the precinct every week for more, finally doused herself with gasoline on the front step and lit herself on fire (it was this article, and its disappearance shortly after I read it, noted when I returned to try to find her name, that caused me to begin archiving things -- it's not something I take a particular delight in).

New York Law School Professor Arthur S. Leonard
According to Judge Richman’s opinion, Giraldo self-identifies as a "male-to-female transgender person." When she was taken into custody at North Kern State Prison, she was evaluated for placement for the duration of her sentence. She was classified as a Level III inmate with 36 points, which gave her a "primary placement recommendation" to be placed at California Medical Facility or California Men’s Colony, institutions with experience in handling transsexual inmates, where they "are relatively safer... than at other state prisons." Despite this recommendation, she was sent to Folsom and put into general male population.

"Within a week of her assignment to FSP, an inmate employed as a lieutenant’s clerk requested that plaintiff be assigned as his cellmate," wrote Richman," which request was granted. Beginning almost immediately, and lasting through late January, the cellmate ‘sexually harassed, assaulted, raped and threatened’ plaintiff on a daily basis." Then this first cellmate introduced plaintiff to "his friend, another inmate, who in late January requested that plaintiff be transferred to his cell, which request was also granted." Just weeks later, this second inmate "began raping and beating her, again daily." Although Giraldo reported this abuse to prison officials and begged to be transferred to a different cell, her requests were ignored for several weeks.

Finally, after suffering a rape and attack with a box-cutter by her cellmate on March 12, 2006, she was moved to "segregated housing." This was just days after she had told a correctional counselor about the abuse to which she was being subjected, and pleaded to be moved to a different cell, pointing out that her original classification meant she was not supposed to have been assigned to Folsom. The counselor’s reaction was to tell her to be "tough and strong," and the counselor discouraged her from taking any further action, returning her to the cell. Just two days before the final incident, she had also spoken with a medical employee, who noted the conversation in her file but took no steps to report the matter to authorities, because "I don’t want to get him into trouble."

Giraldo was moved to a unit for psychologically troubled inmates, but lived in constant fear that she might be sent back to general population and placed with another abusive cellmate. She was released on parole after filing her lawsuit, shortly before the trial of her claims was to take place.

The state argued that there was no general duty under tort law for prison officials to protect inmates from attacks by other inmates.

Inquiry into a death, Coroner J Abernethy, Wednesday 21 July 1999. Ref: W308 201/99 JI-D1.
December 1997. After an appearance in a Local Court, bail was refused and Ms M. was remanded in custody. Late on 22 December she was transported to a remand and reception centre where that night and into the morning of December 23 she underwent induction assessment. She was identified as transgender by the welfare officer and it was determined she should go into a “protection” wing. Having spent December 24 in court Ms M. spent December 25 and 26 in “strict protection”. During this time she was brutally raped at least twice during daylight hours. The attacks were so vicious that two other prisoners took the unusual step of reporting the incidents and giving sworn evidence. On December 27 Ms M. was found dead in her cell hanging by a shoelace.

This day after the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we should also remember those whose names do not appear on the list - because they suicided, or are still alive in body, even if damaged in mind.

I confess I had to pause for a few seconds at the Canberra ceremony, while reading out the names and ages of those killed. I got to "Lawrence King, California USA, Age 15"... and it was a bit too much.

There is always the mild element of fear in the back of our minds that by clustering together on that day, we present too obvious a target. But it's only a mild fear, and nothing has happened - so far. In any event, I live in a country where beatings may happen, but hate-driven murders are rare, once every few years rather than once every few weeks.

So I count my blessings, and continue on till the next year, hoping that there won't be more on the list than this year. The numbers have increased steadily though recently. With the increased exposure comes increased risk, and we know it. The mass rallies to protest Proposition 8 removing the rights of gays to marry has raised the GLBT profile, and those of us who stick out have been targeted.
Allyson Robinson, an associate director at HRC, said that she doesn't think it's alarmist to use the word "epidemic" for the violence that has been occurring against transgender people.
With 3 (or is it 4?) since the US election, perhaps not.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

The Next Big Thing

My regular column, over at TechLifePost is about autonomous flying vehicles and imaging systems.

The trouble with writing futurist stuff is just as often being too conservative as being too imaginative. This one I think is about right. Similar gear exists today, but is only slowly getting into service, and will take a while to become commonplace.

But I may have been too conservative after all. published this article before mine was published - though after I'd provided an outline to the editor.

Yes, that's exactly what I was thinking of, based on some research here at the ANU. And a bit bigger, 30" diameter rather than 18", and rather better performance.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Cthugha's Abode

From the Necronomicon
Of ye Old Ones, not all came on Earth. Ye Demon-Sultan Azathoth, Him Who Is Not To Be Named, lurks ever on that dark world near Aldebaran in ye Hyades. Likewise, Cthugha chose for His abode ye star Fomalhaut.

To visit such places, ye Traveller shall be patient. Only a few chosen are allowed to travel through time and space and see by themselves ye very places where They were born. Either madness or Death is the toll for such a journey. However, it is possible, as ye following chapters will show, to open Windows or Gates though which one may look upon Ye Dark Stars. Ye ritual has a risk though, for Ye Old Ones or Their Minions may feel your gaze and track you down unmercifully.

[Translator's note : Abdul Al-Hazred died in Damascus, circa 738 A.D. Of his final death or disappearance many terrible and conflicting things are told. He is said by Ebn Khallikan (12th century biographer) to have been siezed by an invisible monster in broad daylight and devoured horribly before a large number of fright-frozen witnesses. It is probable one of these "Watchers" finally found him.]

This is the first image of an extra-solar planet, around Formalhaut. The magnified box is shown to the bottom right. Image is from the Hubble Space telescope.

Any resemblance to Sauron's Lidless Eye is purely coincidental, I'm sure.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2008

At Glebe Park, Canberra, on November 20th, from 7pm to 9pm.

View Larger Map

From SameSame:
On average two transgender people are murdered each month, according to global figures. This year alone 26 transgender people were killed. People like Duanna Johnson who died from a gunshot wound to the back of her head on September 11 in Tennessee. She made the news back in June when two police officers bashed her and were caught on camera doing so. When she died she was in the process of suing the City of Memphis for $3.1 million.

The body of 18 year old Angie Zapata was found beaten to death with a fire extinguisher after the man she met online became enraged after finding out she was transgender. Juan Carlos Aucalle Coronel’s life also came to an abrupt end when her body was found with multiple face and head fractures before being run over by a car in Italy. In February 2008 Lawrence King was shot by a classmate because he wore girls’ clothing to school in California. These are only three who have lost their lives simply because of who they were.

Out of the 26 recorded murders this year all were brutally violent, apart from one person who died by drowning – a pattern which has repeated over the past ten years and 245 murders. In the Middle East and some parts of Asia and India murders are still rife and often they’re committed by law officials so the deaths are not recorded.

In Sydney this past February transgender woman Brigitte Fell became headline news when her partner was taken into questioning for an unrelated crime by Surry Hills Police. Brigitte’s transgender status was revealed to him by police , which led to Brigitte’s boyfriend brutally assaulting her after he was released from custody. Such an irresponsible act put Brigitte’s life in danger and very easily could have made her another statistic.

Everyday transgender people around the world face a variety of abuses – verbal abuse is the most common and physical abuse can sometimes result in death. There is still little understanding of transgender people, despite the fat that we’ve been a part of society right throughout history. Many indigenous cultures treat transgender people as the healers or the shaman of the tribe and are often revered. Western society on the other hand, riddled with religious fear, continues to ostracise transgender people. It’s not hard to see the results of this fear – year after year transgender people continue to be slain.

On November 20 people have the chance to remember those who have fallen at events held all over the world. At many of these events the names of those fallen are announced and candles are lit in their honour.
It's now 27, by the way. From WSYR:
Syracuse, New York (WSYR-TV) - A Syracuse man charged with murder after shooting two people on Friday night, one fatally, could wind up facing more serious charges.

Police say Dwight DeLee, 20, shot and killed Moses Cannon, known by friends and family as Latiesha Green. The victim, 22, was a transgendered person. DeLee was arraigned Monday morning in Syracuse City Court on a charge of second degree murder. No bail was set and DeLee remains in custody.
A friend told Latiesha and her brother Mark Cannon, 18, to stop by a party at 411 Seymour Street on Friday night. When they pulled up to the building, police say a number of people took issue with the duo because of their sexaulity.

DeLee allegedly walked up to the parked car and began shouting profanities. Police say he then went inside the house and came back out with a .22-caliber rifle. DeLee fired a single round through the driver’s side window, according to police. The bullet grazed Mark Cannon’s arm and hit Latiesha in the chest.

Mark, who was sitting in the driver’s seat, drove to Arthur Street where an ambulance picked the siblings up and took them to University Hospital. Latiesha was later pronounced dead. Mark was treated and released.

From the Syracuse Post-Standard
Moses and Mark Cannon often hung out together, and family members referred to them as "Bonnie and Clyde." They described "Teish" as someone who loved family and helping others.

"I'm angry. It wasn't her time to go," said Tameka Johnson, Cannon's sister. "She was so full of life and had so much left to give."

Cannon's loss leaves a void in the family that's going to be hard to fill, relatives said. On Sunday, nearly 20 relatives and friends gathered at Cannon's home to comfort each other and share stories about "Teish."

"She was always there for me," said Cannon's niece, Maniya Cannon, 10. "She would do anything to help other people."
"She would do anything to help other people." There are worse requiems. I hope that I deserve something similar.

And to all those who take violent action pleasing to MassResistance, various "2nd-wave" Radical Feminists, and other hate groups, will you please stop killing us too fast for us to commemorate our dead properly?

In Sydney the Gender Centre is holding an event at the Twenty10 Hall – level 2, 45 Bedford St in Newtown on Nov 20 from 2pm to 4pm.

In Melbourne the Metropolitan Community Church are holding a special worship service on Nov 23 7pm at 271 Burnley St, Burnley.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Space Cowboys and Indians

From the Times of India:
The (indian) tricolour landed on the Moon at 8.31 pm on Friday, opening a new chapter in the history of India’s space exploration.
Other entities which have reached the Moon are the US, former Soviet Union, Japan (albeit via a malfunction that sent its orbiter crashing onto the lunar surface) and the European Space Agency (17 nations). India becomes the fifth member of this club.

The tricolour was painted on all sides of the 29 kg Moon Impact Probe (MIP) which was attached to the top portion of the main lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan.
ISRO officials told TOI that the countdown for the MIP’s much-awaited flight to the surface of the Moon began at 7.47 pm.
Kalam’s rationale for including the MIP was that since Chandrayaan was orbiting the Moon at an altitude of 100 km above the lunar surface, a landing would make India’s presence felt on the Moon’s surface. He believed that if this was done, India could always stake a claim to a portion of the Moon.
I'm old enough to remember the US Ranger lunar impacts starting in 1962, and the Surveyor soft-landing probes that followed them - though not the Soviet Luna E-1A that first delivered the Red Flag to the moon in 1959. I was a bit young then, less than 2.

It seems to me that the expressed ambition of the Indian Space Research Organisation to have a Man in space (not Man on the moon as the Indian media trumpets) by 2015 is realistic and achievable.

The important issue though is that India, like China, is quite literally staking a claim. I don't expect them to ratify the UN Moon Treaty any time soon. None of the other spacefaring nations have, after all.

For more on the same lines, see the history of the Antarctic Treaty System, and the Outer Space Treaty. So far it hasn't resembled the Wild West, but so far, the Earth hasn't been desperate for Energy.

For a reason why it's liable to be a contentious issue - as contentious as exploring for Fossil Fuels in the Antarctic - just look at Helium-3. Of course
The primary objective of Indian Space Research Organization's first lunar probe called Chandrayaan-I, launched on October 22, 2008, was reported in some sources to be mapping the Moon's surface for helium-3-containing minerals.[37] However, this is erroneous; no such objective is mentioned in the project's official list of objectives.[38]
Sure it's erroneous. Anyone want to buy this nice Harbour Bridge I have for sale?

Friday, 14 November 2008

In Parliament Yesterday

As recorded in Hansard in the Senate:
Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia)
(9.45 am)—I move:
That the Senate—
(a) notes that:
(i) Thursday, 20 November 2008, marks the 10th
International Transgender Day of Remembrance,
(ii) this day of action was established as a reminder of
those who have been killed as a result of antigendered
hatred or prejudice; and
(b) recognises the work of the Human Rights and Equal
Opportunity Commission in their consultation with
the sex and gender diverse community in how they
can assist in promoting and protecting the human
rights of people who are transgender, transsexual or

Question agreed to.
So say we all.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

The Mind, the Brain, and the Non-Existence of an Interventionist Deity

From the New Scientist :
Creationists declare war over the brain
"YOU cannot overestimate," thundered psychiatrist Jeffrey Schwartz, "how threatened the scientific establishment is by the fact that it now looks like the materialist paradigm is genuinely breaking down. You're gonna hear a lot in the next calendar year about... how Darwin's explanation of how human intelligence arose is the only scientific way of doing it... I'm asking us as a world community to go out there and tell the scientific establishment, enough is enough! Materialism needs to start fading away and non-materialist causation needs to be understood as part of natural reality."

His enthusiasm was met with much applause from the audience gathered at the UN's east Manhattan conference hall on 11 September for an international symposium called Beyond the Mind-Body Problem: New Paradigms in the Science of Consciousness. Earlier Mario Beauregard, a researcher in neuroscience at the University of Montreal, Canada, and co-author of The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist's case for the existence of the soul, told the audience that the "battle" between "maverick" scientists like himself and those who "believe the mind is what the brain does" is a "cultural war".

Schwartz and Beauregard are part of a growing "non-material neuroscience" movement. They are attempting to resurrect Cartesian dualism - the idea that brain and mind are two fundamentally different kinds of things, material and immaterial - in the hope that it will make room in science both for supernatural forces and for a soul. The two have signed the "Scientific dissent from Darwinism" petition, spearheaded by the Seattle-based Discovery Institute, headquarters of the intelligent design movement. ID argues that biological life is too complex to have arisen through evolution.
We see as through a glass, darkly. Which is to say, we see parts of the whole, and have to guess the rest, while searching for more and better data. It really is like solving a jigsaw puzzle, formulating hypotheses about what the picture we're trying to find is, and using those hypotheses to guide our search in particular areas. "This corner piece is entirely blue, so let's see what other blue pieces there are, as it's unlikely that the blueness is confined only to this one piece."

I've written in a previous post about a simple experiment that would show the existence of a non-material form of perception and consciousness. I don't believe such will be found, but it's worth a look, just to make absolutely sure. That post also delved into attempts to synthesise an intelligence, a mind, by emulating each of its known components. We already know that we can take very simple electronics, and have the resultant entity replicate the behaviour of a simple creature such as a spiny lobster. To me, that argues against spiny lobsters being terribly intelligent, but others may disagree.

I've also written in many previous posts about the quantum weirdness that is currently our only explanation - and our only reason for looking for it - for a split between Mind and Brain. Almost all of psychiatry, a whole branch of medicine, is predicated on such a split existing, or at least, it relies on such a split being a useful model, a facet of the truth, even if the thing as a whole is purest hokum.

It's no accident though that a profession that was once largely about dream-analysis and racial-memory recovery is now more about balancing neurotransmitters and titrating doses of chemicals. The "God of the Psychiatric Gaps" has lost much of his temple now, and it's shrinking all the time.

One thing though that has been lost in the shuffle: the disproof of the narrowest definition of Theism. We can't prove that the Universe wasn't created. We can prove that if a creator (or Creator) existed, then only Deism is consistent with the facts. That such a Creator certainly can't be Omniscient - for as an observer, the Creator would cause the collapse of wave-functions that we know remain indeterminate. We can show that any Divine Intervention would require things to be quite different, and outside existing physical laws.

It's possible to postulate such an Entity, one who can do anything, outside all physical bounds, but such an Entity would be utterly ineffable, and completely outside our understanding in even the smallest respect. If He can do anything whatsoever then there's no point in saying that anything is cause or anything is effect. The Invisible Pink Unicorn does the lot.

Maybe so. And maybe you who are reading this blog only came into existence a microsecond ago, complete with memories and a whole physical Universe to exist in. I can't prove you didn't, and neither can you. All you have to do is to suspend all physical laws, which the Invisible Pink Unicorn has to be able to do in order to intervene in even the smallest way.

To me, a really impressive Deity would be one who sets the ball rolling, then gets out of the way, hoping and expecting that after the requisite eons of cooking, that the recipe will be a success. Perhaps not the first time He's done it, either. Making Friends, as I'll explain later.

Do I think that there is a "soul", a non-material component to existence? I really don't know. I hope there is, but hoping and wishing is not the same as believing. I certainly think it's possible, given what we know now. If it exists though, it should be possible to detect it. Perhaps not in the OOBE experiments I mentioned before, but in other ways. And if it is indetectable, then it may as well be said not to exist. Or to be exactly as real as the Invisible Pink Unicorn (mhhhnbs).

And meanwhile in my PhD studies I'm finding out not just the what of Evolution, but the How. Not just in biological systems, but systems generally, how biospheres and ecologies (including economies and religions) evolve. "Intelligent Design" I consider an uninteresting idea, as un-necessary as the IPU doing things with her holy unshod hooves. Maybe Aliens really did come to Earth and steer Evolution. I can't prove they didn't. I think I can prove that it's un-necessary to postulate them in order to explain observations though.

What I would like to happen after my death is that I eventually get to meet a Creator who was so utterly clever, so benevolent and kind, that He created a whole Multiversal system that would (he hoped) generate Universes that would allow the development of beings like himself, without further intervention or observation. That would generate Species that would eventually evolve into his equals, and his offspring.

Wanting is not the same as believing though, and until I see rather more compelling evidence than I have of a metaphysical reality, it's not something I give any great weight to.

You might note that I haven't mentioned morality above. That's because I consider it to be an an entirely separate issue. If something is Evil, it's Evil, regardless of whether a Big Bully Policeman in the Sky will send anyone to an eternal torture-chamber for not for doing it. Similarly, if something is Good, it's Good. And would be so even if doing that meant Eternal Damnation at the hands of "Infinite Power and Infinite Sadism". But that's another story...

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

A Sea of Yellow Cards Filled the Room

Today's first battle is over at the Irish Sun. Some more exposure of the facts, and some more exposure to these kinds of comment:
By Lahla, 11-10-08, 04:03 PM

You’re not a man because you have an operation. You’re just a freak who believes everything they’re told. Do you honestly think all of us don’t feel like we should in our body? It’s a natural way of life. These people are just so insane they think they really should be a man or woman when they’re a woman or man, respectively. Get a hobby, freak.
And this:
By Mr. T, 11-11-08, 05:14 PM
There is a psychological condition where a person believes he has too many limbs. Doctors rarely if ever perform an amputation. Why then would they perform a surgery for someone who think he’s in the wrong body? For a man becoming a woman, they cut open the penis and turn it inside-out. I really wish instead they insisted they got therapy until they accepted hand they were dealt.
Which doesn't work, but makes those wishing for it feel more comfortable. And this:
By Normal, 11-11-08, 08:20 PM
Wow, I’m amazed at the number of weird perverts.....
And so on.

It could be worse though. And sure enough, over at the Memphis Flyer, it is. Discussing the police beating, and subsequent murder, of Duanna Johnson.
Toast, Midtown 11/10/2008 - 3:44pm
RIP He-She
Nice. And this one:
V-8 POWER, south 11/11/2008 - 6:55pm
what are they gonna bury this freak in,,a dress or suit..?
About 25% of the comments are like that, it's not that I'm cherry-picking. Some have been suspicious of police involvement, others bemoaning the rate of violence in the community generally. A few were even supportive.

Now that the UPI has picked the story up - with the detail that Duanna was killed execution-style with a single gunshot to the head - maybe it will go national. We'll see.

Finally, a post on TransEpiscopal that literally brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes it seems an awfully big mountain, and an awfully small teaspoon to be moving it with. I need the occasional story like this to recharge my batteries, and restore my faith in Humankind.
When Bishop Gayle Harris asked if we were ready to vote, she didn’t have time to specify that those in favor of the resolution should signify a yes by raising their yellow cards. Yellow cards just started rising, beginning with the left side of the hall. “Hey, what if I had started with the nos?!” she said. But the avalanche was unstoppable: a sea of yellow cards filled the room. When Bishop Harris asked those against the resolution to raise their red cards, I saw no more than 10, again, in a room of about 800 people. I imagine there were some quiet abstentions, but based on that sea of yellow cards, there can’t have been many.

So the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts has now gone on record in support of transgender civil rights here in Massachusetts as well as at the federal level, and it has asked the General Convention next summer to augment its non-discrimination canon to include transgender people as part of the ministry of all the baptized.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Today's Battle

At the Grauniad, where noted Transphobe Julie Bindel was nominated for an award as "Journalist of the Year" by UK GLB(but not T) group STONEWALL. Named after a riot against police oppression of trans* and gays started by a Transgendered woman, to add a touch of Irony.

Julie B is what is known as a second wave Radical Feminist Lesbian. Meaning she hates men. Literally, she's written an article on why she feels that way. She also is committed to dissolving gender boundaries, stating as an axiomatic matter of faith that all gender is purely a social construct, so men don't actually exist. So that's why she wants a woman-only space with strict gender apartheid, and wishes to eliminate or deny the existence of anyone who proves that gender is partly biological.

Consistency - and even basic humanity - are not her strong suites.

Here's Julie in full cry :
Call me old-fashioned, but I thought the one battle we feminists won fair and square was to convince at least those left of centre that gender roles are made up. They are not real. We play at them. We develop traditional masculine or feminine traits by being indoctrinated, not because we are biologically programmed to behave in those ways.
Think about a world inhabited just by transsexuals. It would look like the set of Grease.
The paper was forced to apologise for that one - though Julie says she was just apologising for the gratuitous insults and tone, not the content.

Here she is though after being given the news that her nomination came last in the field. You see, the largest transgender demonstration ever held in the UK protested - in a very civilised English way - outside STONEWALL's galah awards, and she didn't like that, not one little bit. How dare they!
Being nominated for an award is supposed to be a nice thing, right? Well not for me. When I was told a few weeks ago that I had been shortlisted for a journalist of the year award by the gay rights organisation Stonewall, I knew I would not win. I was certainly a worthy contender, but I knew from that moment that all hell was about to break loose.

You need a little history first: in 2004 I wrote a column in this newspaper about a Canadian male-to-female transsexual who had taken a rape crisis centre to court over its decision not to invite her to be a counsellor for rape victims. I questioned whether a sex change would make someone a woman, or simply a man who has had surgery.
The fact that the counsellor had been raped herself, and had previous experience counselling other victims, with ratings such as "excellent" and "gifted"... that doesn't matter.
We became "lesbian and gay", but soon bisexuals shouted, "Us too". Transsexuals, having received short shrift from heterosexual society, asked to be included in our rainbow alliance, followed by Queer (anyone who is into "kinky" sex), then Questioning (those having a think about who and how they might shag in the future), and finally (for now) Intersex (those born with biological features that are simultaneously perceived as male and female).
Queer meaning anyone into "kinky" sex? I can't believe the depth of pig-ignorance this displays. It's exactly the kind of thing I'd expect from flat-earth fundamentalists. To continue:
But I for one do not wish to be lumped in with an ever-increasing list of folk defined by "odd" sexual habits or characteristics.
You know, like those Freaks with Intersex conditions. She's Normal, and so has the right to dictate what others should and should not do, in the name of Politically Pure Radical Lesbian Feminism.
Shall we just start with A and work our way through the alphabet? A, androgynous, b, bisexual, c, cat-fancying d, devil worshipping. Where will it ever end?
Hopefully with a change of career for her, from a noted columnist an a national newspaper. Well, maybe if she didn't classify transsexuals, bisexuals and the intersexed amongst satanists and practicers of bestiality, it might help.

Anyway, here's what I wrote in the comments. The usual attempt to inform rather than insult.
Intersexed people tend to keep a low profile. It's safer for us, and besides which, so much of the Gender Politics based on competing philosophies that ignore medical facts reminds us too much of Kindergarten. Not a happy place for some of us, by the way, And medical facts are things that can kill us if we ignore them, some of our medical conditions are life-threatening.

There are amongst us people who identify as male - but with a congenital medical problem. There are those of us who identify as female, again with a congenital medical problem. I'm in that group, by the way. There are those of us who identify as neither, as Neutrius. And those who identify as Androgyne, something of both. Actual degree of physical Intersexuality has little impact on this, women can be born with bodies that look mainly male, and the reverse.

There are a few of us whose appearance naturally changes over time - see Gender change in 46,XY persons with 5alpha-reductase-2 deficiency and 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-3 deficiency. by Cohen-Ketternis. Most such natural "sex reversals" are Female to Male, I'm in the tiny minority that go the other way, but the legal and social problems are much the same. Unlike most who are Intersexed, we can't hide.

JB doesn't think we exist - or less charitably, if we do, then she thinks we shouldn't. You see, we are acutely aware of the real differences between Typical Male and Typical Female, as well as all the bluriness and complexity that makes a strict binary model of either Gender or Sex meaningless. We know that for some, the binary models fit really well, no matter what political philosophy you espouse. And for some, they don't fit at all, regardless of what various religious or political beliefs you hold. Reality doesn't care.

Call me old-fashioned, but I thought the one battle we feminists won fair and square was to convince at least those left of centre that gender roles are made up. They are not real. We play at them. We develop traditional masculine or feminine traits by being indoctrinated, not because we are biologically programmed to behave in those ways.

Our very existence denies that. Gender Roles are a social construct, there's no "gene" for girls preferring pink and boys blue. But Gender is not. There are very real neurological differences in the way we think. It's a Bi-Modal distribution, two peaks, one typically female, the other typically male, but with overlap and some who are in the middle. Complex I know, not simple, but biology is like that.

Transsexuals - those whose emotional responses and thinking patterns (as opposed to learned Gender Role) are atypical for their body form get extreme discomfort. Some have neurology, a brain-body map, that gives them instincts contrary to their anatomy.This gives such intense discomfort, it's indescribable. Many suicide, and substance abuse and induced mental illness is common. Surgery to align brain and body has a 98% success rate (though the co-morbidities may remain after the cause is removed), and every other treatment - from "talking cures" to the full "Clockwork Orange" aversion therapy has a 0.000% success rate. That's in the literature, anyone on the net can verify it.

See BiGender and the Brain for some of the science about gender.

JB is Transphobic by the definition in Stonewall's own pamphlet, but this post by her shows it goes beyond that. She doesn't want to be associated with anyone at all different from her. And she claims the right to decide what's best for others on the basis of her normality, and in the name of philosophically pure Radical Feminist Lesbianism.

She's a "worthy contender" for "Journalist of the year" - in her own mind. Others differ, and in her opinion, they have no right to.

The problem is that STONEWALL, the organisation, is guilty not of Transphobia, but of "aiding and abetting". JB is just another shock-jock columnist, one who gets the Grauniad extra readers by being "controversial". A professional Troll, whose eccentric views are exploited to sell papers. That she often writes articles on genuine issues such as gynephobic violence is a bonus.

Having such a person, one who has now revealed herself in this article as highly Xenophobic, nominated for an award is against every principle of diversity STONEWALL stands for. Or should do. We have been given good reason to doubt that now.
So why does all this matter? Surely it's just more silly sophomoric political games, people shouting at each other in the battle of the -isms, with no-one but they interested in the outcome?

It matters because of this - the events I wrote about in Nothing Unusual. I'd ask you to read that first. Here's the video anyway.

There's a sequel. From Eyewitness News :
MEMPHIS, TN – Duanna Johnson was found shot to death in North Memphis, according to her lawyer.

Memphis police say it happened just before midnight at Hollywood near Staten Avenue, Sunday, November 9, 2008.

According to detectives, when officers arrived at the scene, they found the body lying in the street. Police say a witness heard gunfire and then saw three people running away from the scene. Investigators do not have any suspects at this time.

Lawyer Murray Wells confirmed to Eyewitness News that the person who was killed is his client Duanna Johnson. He says Johnson was often in the area where she was killed.

Murray says Johnson was trying to leave Memphis and go back to her hometown of Chicago. According to Murray, Jonson was just about homeless trying to live in Memphis. He says the apartment where Jonson was living did not have power. Murray says he was helping Johnson buy a bus ticket to Chicago.
It matters because just as the beating of Duanna Johnson was not widely publicised in MSM, her murder will go unremarked either, even if a ballistics exam shows (purely by coincidence) a police-issue weapon was involved. It matters because if the Julie Bindels of the world are allowed to preach their poisonous Xenophobia without being called on it, then consequences such as this are inescapable.

Another piece of the puzzle

Perhaps a "tipping point" has been reached now, with more and more data clarifying the situation, and confirming theory.

Professor M.Italiano of Gendercare Inc. and Organisation Intersex International (to whom many thanks) very kindly sent me an advance copy of a new article, whose abstract is available from Oxford Journals.

From A sex difference in the hypothalamic uncinate nucleus: relationship to gender identity by
A. Garcia-Falgueras A and D.F. Swaab.
In the present study we investigated the hypothalamic uncinate nucleus, which is composed of two subnuclei, namely interstitial nucleus of the anterior hypothalamus (INAH) 3 and 4. Post-mortem brain material was used from 42 subjects: 14 control males, 11 control females, 11 male-to-female transsexual people, 1 female-to-male transsexual subject and 5 non-transsexual subjects who were castrated because of prostate cancer.
We showed for the first time that INAH3 volume and number of neurons of male-to-female transsexual people is similar to that of control females. The female-to-male transsexual subject had an INAH3 volume and number of neurons within the male control range, even though the treatment with testosterone had been stopped three years before death. The castrated men had an INAH3 volume and neuron number that was intermediate between males (volume and number of neurons P > 0.117) and females (volume P > 0.245 and number of neurons P > 0.341). There was no difference in INAH3 between pre-and post-menopausal women, either in the volume (P > 0.84) or in the number of neurons (P < 0.439), indicating that the feminization of the INAH3 of male-to-female transsexuals was not due to estrogen treatment. We propose that the sex reversal of the INAH3 in transsexual people is at least partly a marker of an early atypical sexual differentiation of the brain and that the changes in INAH3 and the BSTc may belong to a complex network that may structurally and functionally be related to gender identity.
The key phrase here is "complex network". You can point to one place, the BSTc layer, and say that's a definitive marker, but it can't be causal. The difference appears after symptoms of transsexuality. It's something more subtle, and more complex, involving more than one part of the brain, and in more than one characteristic. There are overlaps, there is fuzziness, there is complexity, and we still have a lot to learn.

The presence or absence of testosterone appears to be important in actively changing neurological structures - how else to explain the "intermediate" figures for castrated males? But it's not the whole picture, as the FtoM subject had male-typical neurology even 3 years after discontinuing hormones for medical reasons. Both hormonal balance and genetic propensity appear to be required, as current theory predicts. There are certainly multiple genetic causes that can potentialise the same effect, but without anomalous hormones, the potential remains just that.

We still don't know enough to draw conclusions about the details, but in my opinion, biological causation is no no longer proven "on the balance of probability", but beyond reasonable doubt. Not beyond all doubt whatsoever, but as they say, "a jury would convict". While no single experiment is definitive, there are now a dozen or more experiments in widely separated areas of knowledge all suggesting the same thing, and sometimes strongly suggesting it. Taken separately, none of the experimental evidence is enough to say anything other than a "definite maybe". Taken together, and with exactly zero evidence to contradict them (a rare thing in Science), there's no "maybe" about it any more.

One thing we don't know for sure is how these neurological anomalies lead to another anomaly, a difference from the expected norm, transsexuality. I won't call it a "disorder", that has far too many negative and unevidenced connotations. It is an anomaly though that, in conjunction with societal attitudes, can lead to significant distress. When it involves the body-image, even if there was a wholly benevolent societal attitude, it will lead to distress so extreme that suicidal ideation, anxiety and acute depression are not just common, but almost universal.

A nose by any other name would smell, and although I have no wish to offend anyone who sees all this as just a "natural variation" like red hair or blue eyes, I can see the reasoning behind calling it a disorder, even if I disagree strongly with that view. Certainly the anxiety and distress in some cases can only be called a medical condition, one caused by biology, and wholly treatable in most cases by aligning body and brain so there is no conflict. The only reason I say most cases is that since the cause is biological, hence messy and fuzzy, there will be some people who will be miserable with either typical male or typical female configurations. Some may be happy as androgynes, but I'm sorry to say that there may well be some for whom there is no good solution, just a "least worst". A significant minority of people with post-operative regret are not merely victims of substandard surgery, they transition back. And more often than not, wish they could go back again after that. I'm not sure I know what can be done to help such people, and I don't think they know what can be done themselves. We should listen to them anyway, because although they may be clueless, we certainly are.

Conversely, there are some Intersexed people perfectly happy with unusual bodies, and highly resentful (as they have every right to be) of those who would force them to conform to majority expectations - expectations often based on pseudo-religious beliefs that actually contradict scripture - and not what would be right for the individual concerned. Some are very unhappy indeed, having been surgically mutilated as infants in order to please others. In extreme cases, they have been butchered and forced into becoming effectively transsexual, with a brain-gender that is exactly the opposite to their somatic-gender. No wonder they feel more than just a teeny bit ticked off by this. Even those proponents of early intervention admit that they get it wrong this way in at least 10% of cases.

From Endocrinology Today :
There are some kinds of medical decisions, such as sterilization and organ donation, that parents alone can’t authorize. In these cases, a court must determine that the decision serves the child’s best interest. The legal rationale for these exceptions to the general rules of parental consent arguably apply to infant genitoplasty as well: the procedures are elective; they are irreversible with dramatic lifelong consequences; and there is a potential for conflict between the interests of parents and child. (Indeed, some providers have recommended genitoplasty in the belief that it is necessary for the parents’ well-being.)
And that I find the most jaw-droppingly outrageous thing I've read in a very long time. I knew it happened from talking to the victims, but to have it openly admitted is another matter. I applaud the author for airing this dirty laundry in public, as she wants to make sure that we - society, the medical profession, and parents - do the right thing for these children.

Getting back to Transsexuality... we don't know the mechanism behind the causal relationship. That it is causal has been proven now, though not absolutely. Only correlation has. I've mentioned Diamond's Biased-Transactional theory before in BiGender and the Brain. It says that an anomalously cross-gendered brain (the "Bias") will lead to a cross-gendered identity by the child comparing itself to others (the "Transactions").

I am only an expert in myself, not others. In my case, his theory fits perfectly, though it doesn't involve culturally gendered behaviour as such, only instinct and emotional reactions. I liked toy guns, toy cars, I was stereotypically male when young in what is normally regarded as gendered behaviour. If gender was purely a social construct, I would have been indubitably and unambiguously male, no question of it. But my inner thoughts, my feelings, my emotions, and my hard-wired instincts, they were quite different, and (in hindsight) stereotypically female, more so than even I realised at the time. I did realise it enough to pick the name "Zoe" though, at age 10. I thought I'd have a female puberty, you see. As I did, just delayed 35 years *sigh*.

So we know that the Biased-Transactional theory is true - for one case. Moi. For others, it seems to fit too. For all? I don't know. Perhaps if we could study adults whose gender identity is still crystalising - say those who attempt transition, but temporarily or permanently de-transition for other than economic or family reasons - we could say more.

But in the meantime, this is theory, not hard fact. We have hard facts though, more every month, and this paper is yet another piece of the puzzle.

Monday, 10 November 2008


From the ABC:
Investigators believe lethal gas was responsible for killing 20 people on board a Russian nuclear submarine at the weekend.
With more than 200 servicemen and civilian shipyard workers on board, the submarine was undergoing trials in the Sea of Japan when the fire extinguishing system was activated.

According to a spokesman for the federal prosecutor's investigation committee, as part of that system freon gas was released.

Initial medical reports indicate it was the gas that killed three servicemen and 17 civilians.

An investigation is under way into how and why the system was activated.

A Russian expert has reportedly said that a lack of gas masks among too many untrained civilians may have elevated the death toll in the submarine
Lord God, our power evermore,
Whose arm doth reach the ocean floor,
Dive with our men beneath the sea,
Traverse the depths protectively.
O hear us when we pray, and keep
Them safe from peril in the deep.

They were our opponents - and may yet be again. But never our enemies.

Condolences to the families of all those killed. It could have been me under some circumstances, I could have been one of the 17 scumbag civilian contractors killed on this boat, or the dozens killed on the Kursk.

I expect a collection will be made for them via the Sankt Petersberg Submariners Club.

Friday, 7 November 2008

The Next Big Thing

I now write a regular column in TechLifePost Magazine - The Next Big Thing. First issue here,on the convergence of GPS and mobile communications.

As if my life wasn't busy enough already.. still, medical bills and all...

Thursday, 6 November 2008

In Other News...

Although this only affects TS and IS people indirectly, it still doesn't augur well.

Arizona Proposition 102:
Ban on Gay Marriage
This measure would amend the state constitution so that only a union between one man and one woman would be valid or recognized as a marriage in the state. A similar measure was on the ballot in 2006 but failed.

PASS 56:44

Note that "man" and "woman" are terms not defined, so may or may not apply to TS and IS people, depending on whatever the legislature may decide this week.

Arkansas Initiative 1:
Ban on Gay Couples Adopting Children
This measure would prohibit unmarried "sexual partner[s]" from adopting children or from serving as foster parents. The measure specifies that the prohibition applies to both opposite-sex as well as same-sex couples.

PASS 57:43

There are 3000 orphans up for adoption in Arkansas, and only 1000 couples who qualify now. Discrimination is more important than Children's welfare.

California Proposition 8:
Ban on Gay Marriage
This measure would amend the state constitution to specify that only marriages between one man and one woman would be recognized as valid in the state. If passed, the measure would trump a May 2008 ruling by the California Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage.

(Provisional) PASS 52:48

This is the first time that a state constitution has been explicitly amended to remove existing human rights.

Florida Amendment 2:
Ban on Gay Marriage
This measure would amend the state constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman. In order to amend the Florida constitution, 60 percent of voters must vote in favor of the amendment.

PASS 62:38

This measure also precludes giving any of the rights associated with marriage, such as hospital visitation or pension benefits, to unmarried couples whether same- or mixed-sex.

And in Hamtramck, from the Citizen :
Hamtramck voters join nation in coming out in record numbers
“I’m voting no,” said Jonathon Richards. When asked why he replied, “I just do. It goes against my personal world view. … I don’t agree that (gays) should have equal rights. They shouldn’t be allowed to share benefits.”

When asked if the civil rights movement of the 1960s was in any way related to gays fighting for rights Richards said no.

“That was race, gays have a choice,” Richards said. “Many of the homosexuals I know have had some situation, or I’ve heard some horror story where they had a major change in their life that made them gay.”

He said that he doesn’t feel that they should be allowed to share benefits if they live together. Richards has lived in Hamtramck for five years.
Ahmed also said he’d vote against the “Human Rights” ordinance, saying there are already state and federal laws protecting people. “Why do another one?” he said.

(Editor’s note: the most controversial part of the ordinance grants anti-discrimination protection for gays and lesbians. There are no Michigan or federal laws giving them protection.)
Consequently, from the Detroit News:
Residents on Tuesday repealed a controversial human rights ordinance that's less than a year old.
The ordinance, approved by the City Council in January, bans discrimination in areas such as housing, employment and city contracts. It includes protection for sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.
Hamtramck was the 17th Michigan municipality to provide some sort of nondiscrimination protections, including Royal Oak, Ferndale, Birmingham, Huntington Woods, Oak Park, Detroit, Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Saginaw and Grand Rapids.

"We don't want any group to get special freedom and discriminate ourselves," said Akm Rahman, co-chairman of Hamtramck Citizens Voting No to "Special Rights."

"This is unnecessary. We have a lot of other things that need to be done (such as) taxes, crime and economic development. Those are more important issues."
And yet it's important enough to get a ballot specifically to remove existing Human Rights. We understand. Michigan, by the way, voted 57:41 for Obama. Some issues transcend Blue and Red.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008


The Gang of Four

I've been tagged by The Shadow of the Olive Tree.

Four jobs I've had

1. Warehouse Dispatch Clerk
2. Academic Tutor
3. Rocket Scientist
4. Software Engineer

Four films I can watch over and over

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey
2. The Bicentennial Man
3. Arsenic and Old Lace
4. Zulu

Four places I've lived

1. Britain (Earley and Twyford in Berkshire)
2. Australia (Sydney, Canberra)
3. Germany (Bremen)
4. The Netherlands (Hengelo)

Four TV shows I love

1. Discovery Channel - megastructures
2. Samurai Jack
3. The Simpsons
4. Boston Legal

Four places I've been on holiday

1. Butlin's Holiday Camp Bognor Regis
2. Spotorno, Italy
3. Wandering via Car round the UK, Land's End to Inverness and back
4. Den Haag for the World Science Fiction Convention

Four of my favourite meals

1. Pad Thai
2. Pancakes Romanoff
3. Oysters Kilpatrick
4. Pork Pie (with Mango Chutney)

Four websites I visit daily

1. Instapundit
2. Tim Blair
3. Beginning Life Forum
4. Transterrestrial Musings

Four places I'd like to be right now

1. Antarctica
2. Luna
3. Smithsonian
4. St Petersberg (Hermitage Museum)

Four bloggers I tag

1. Calamity Jane
2. Nancy Gonzales
3. Madd
4. Laserlight

Tuesday, 4 November 2008


From :
After countless accounts of near-death experiences, dating as far back as ancient Greece, science is now taking serious steps forward to explore the nature of the phenomenon. A new project aims to determine whether the NDE is a physiological event or evidence that the human consciousness is far more complicated than we ever believed.

The Human Consciousness Project sets out to explore the nature of human consciousness and the brain. The first step of the project is the "Awareness During Resuscitation" study, a collaboration among more than 25 medical centers throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe.
But the most intriguing aspect of the study is its attempt to study consciousness during clinical death. According to Parnia, the science of these "consciousness events" may be somewhat similar to the relation between Newtonian physics and quantum physics. Scientists once believed that Newtonian physics could answer all the questions in the universe. When they ventured into the sub-atomic realm, though, Newtonian physics no longer applied. But quantum physics did. Similarly, the near-death experience could be another state of consciousness with a different set of rules than what we currently understand, and beyond the limits of what current scientific methods can explain.

"When you study mind and brain, you see that, although in many circumstances this practical model we have developed -- mind and brain are the same thing -- is fine, when you go to an extreme environment like during a cardiac arrest…they don't seem to apply anymore," says Parnia. "It may suggest that there's something that hasn't been discovered scientifically."

Studies by Parnia and other researchers show that between 10 and 20 percent of who are resuscitated from cardiac arrest had a near-death experience. Various other studies show the frequency of near-death experience to be between 4 and 18 percent. The experience is typically described as a progression of stages. First, the person has a sense of peace, then a sense of separation from the body. The person then enters into darkness, and sees a bright light like the end of a tunnel. Finally, the person enters the light and interacts with an entity, described as God, Allah, or simply a universal cosmic force.
The initial phase of the study will outfit participating rooms with shelves placed high up on the wall. On the top of each shelf will be a picture, visible only from the ceiling. Doctors will test whether patients who report a near-death experience are able to recall the image. If patients -- as few as four or five -- can positively recall these static images, then the study will move on: randomly generated images will be projected onto the shelves, which will further test the ability of the test subject to recall images. If no patients can recall the static images, the study can conclude that the floating effect is a trick of the mind.
I expect the "trick of the mind" hypothesis to be proven. If it isn't though.... then the implications are staggering. We'll see, I consider the chance to be so low as to be not worth considering until the data is in. And if, as I expect, there is no such thing as an "Out of Body Experience", then we can prune great limbs off the decision-tree that is the study of mind and consciousness, a win either way.

I remain highly sceptical, despite having an experience similar to that of an OOBE when I had a light general anaesthetic during revision surgery. It would be nice to go back to that place, though there's far too much work still to be done back in this one for me to stay long. I felt I was Goofing off, not doing my duty. I knew that all I had to do was relax, and I'd have limbs and a body again, I'd re-integrate, but it still felt quite weird, almost un-natural to do so.

We try to find patterns even when there's none there, especially when there's none there, just inchoate firings of re-booting neurons.

Converging with these kinds of studies is another path, from a completely different direction. This one from the 2008 Singularity Summit, as described in the Next Big Future blog. It's a path I have more faith in. Emulating the Brain.

Click to enlarge

"An informal poll among workshop attendees produced a range of estimates where the required resolution for Whole Brain Emulation (WBE) is. The consensus appeared to be level 4‐6. Two participants were more optimistic about high level models, while two suggested that elements on level 8‐9 may be necessary at least initially (but that the bulk of mature emulation, once the basics were understood, could occur on level 4‐5). To achieve emulation on this level, the consensus was that 5×5×50 nm scanning resolution would be needed. This roadmap will hence focus on level 4‐6 models, while being open for that deeper levels may turn out to be needed."
What is really interesting is that this might tell us something about the role of "Quantum Consciousness", if it exists. Certainly we'd need something like that to explain any unexpected OOBE results in the experiments described in the beginning of this post. Failure here - that is, failure to make an intelligent being - could tell us something quite profound, not just about the mind, but about the universe at large, taking large parts of metaphysics and putting them in the physical realm.

I doubt it though. I think we will be able to manufacture mind - though getting it to emerge from a "persistent vegetative state" might be a real problem. If we do, we won't have explained the persistent belief in "souls" other than as a comforting falsehood, but we will have made (quite literally) a friend. Oh yes, immortality too, running the process that is our very self in more persistent (and more easily maintained) hardware. Either way it's a win.

More on the convergence of emulation and analysis is in previous posts about Analytic and Synthetic Brains, Mapping the Core, The Race for the Brain, Laminated Mouse Brains and From Laminated Mouse to Telepathic Cat.

Monday, 3 November 2008

India Looks To the Moon

The picture opposite was taken from the Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe launched last week by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), at a altitude of 70,000km.

From Times of India:
A week after its launch, Chandrayaan-1 is now more than halfway towards the Moon with the fourth orbit raising manoeuvre executed flawlessly at 7.38am on Wednesday. The mission lifted off at Sriharikota on October 22.

Isro's telemetry, tracking and command network (Istrac) director S K Shivakumar told TOI during the critical manoeuvre, that the spacecraft's 440 Newton liquid engine was fired for nearly three minutes resulting in the Moon-bound Chandrayaan-1 entering into a more elliptical orbit.

It's apogee (farthest point from Earth) lies at 2,67,000km, while the perigee (nearest point to Earth) is at 465km. Thus, Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft's present orbit extends more than half the way to the Moon, he said.

In this orbit, the spacecraft takes about six days to go round the Earth once. Shivakumar said the next firing will be on Monday which will further raise the spacecraft's altitude to 3,84,000km. The motor will be fired for 2.5 minutes. "This will be the last earthbound firing before the spacecraft enters the lunar orbit on November 8," he said.
India still hasn't initiated a manned space program - but that just puts them on the same effective level as the US at the moment, or near enough. The Shuttle (or Space Transportation System to give it it's formal name) is due for retirement soon - it's already passed its "use by" date - and the replacement Constellation program is looking more and more like a Death March project, that will be put out of its misery in the next Administration's second term. Or perhaps before, if the Democrats control congress. From PolitickerMA :
Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, also said he would cut agricultural subsidies to wealthy farmers. Reducing the amount of money spent on sending humans into space would be another priority, Frank said. "Space exploration is very important and has great scientific and practical results, but sending human beings to Mars and back will cost hundreds of billions of dollars for very little scientific worth."
Who was it who said History repeats itself, the first time as Drama, the second time as Farce?

This mission doesn't put India on the same level as the US, or even Europe. More like Japan. However, if the US manned space program has to be re-started around 2017, it means that the language spoken in the first permanent lunar base will be Mandarin. And it's not that unlikely that one of the languages on the second one will be Hindi.