Monday, 31 March 2008

Honi Soit

Strife. In Arabic, "Fitna".

Here's a link to a film that is getting progressively more difficult to find on the Net, and indeed, anywhere. That's because of the very real threats made against anyone or anything that hosts it.

From the ABC:
A Muslim author and critic of Islamic fundamentalism who was baptised a Catholic by Pope Benedict says Islam is "physiologically violent" and he is now in great danger because of his conversion.

"I realise what I am going up against but I will confront my fate with my head high, with my back straight and the interior strength of one who is certain about his faith," said Magdi Allam.

In a surprise move on Saturday night, the pope baptised the 55-year-old Egyptian-born Mr Allam at an Easter eve service broadcast around the world from St Peter's Basilica.

Mr Allam's conversion to Christianity - he took the name "Christian" for his baptism - was kept secret until the Vatican disclosed it in a statement less than an hour before it began.

Writing in Sunday's edition of Italy's Corriere della Sera, the newspaper of which he is a deputy director, Mr Allam said: "the root of evil is innate in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictual".
An Islam, not Islam per se. Or is it?

The complete quote is at Zenit:
I had to ask myself about the attitude of those who publicly declared fatwas, Islamic juridical verdicts, against me -- I who was a Muslim -- as an “enemy of Islam,” “hypocrite because he is a Coptic Christian who pretends to be a Muslim to do damage to Islam,” “liar and vilifier of Islam,” legitimating my death sentence in this way. I asked myself how it was possible that those who, like me, sincerely and boldly called for a “moderate Islam,” assuming the responsibility of exposing themselves in the first person in denouncing Islamic extremism and terrorism, ended up being sentenced to death in the name of Islam on the basis of the Quran. I was forced to see that, beyond the contingency of the phenomenon of Islamic extremism and terrorism that has appeared on a global level, the root of evil is inherent in an Islam that is physiologically violent and historically conflictive.
...
There was a time when my mother’s loving presence and religious zeal brought me closer to Islam, which I occasionally practiced at a cultural level and in which I believed at a spiritual level according to an interpretation that at the time -- it was the 1970s -- summarily corresponded to a faith respectful of persons and tolerant toward the neighbor, in a context -- that of the Nasser regime -- in which the secular principle of the separation of the religious sphere and the secular sphere prevailed.
So yes, it is possible to have an interpretation of Islam which is not evil.

This appears to be increasingly a minority viewpoint, not amongst non-muslims, but amongst muslims themselves. "Behead all those who say Islam is Violent!"

So, with no further ado, Fitna - strife.



I thought long and hard about publishing this post. Not because of personal danger - for there I already have enough of a threat from so-called "Christians", mostly overseas. But because I work with and alongside people from Malaysia, Saudi, and Indonesia. Muslims. Good people. I didn't want to insult them. But I figure that they are even more insulted by what is being done in the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate. So this film can't possibly hurt them. In fact, it's a case of Honi soit qui mal y pense.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Feminism Piled Higher and Deeper

Looking at this graph, I wonder what's more significant: the overall picture showing the societal discrimination against women in academe is decreasing, or the gender-based difference is the various domains of study.

In my own experience at the ANU, only about 8-12% of Engineers in first year are female. How much of this is due to sex-based statistical differences in inate talent, how much due to socialisation, and how much is due to girls just being more interested in other areas? My bet's the last of the three, but that just begs the question: how much is inate, "natural", and how much is socially conditioned? I think the latter predominates by maybe 3:1, but the former exists too. We'll see. If I'm right, all of the curves will flatten at about the same time, with women getting a little more than half of all PhDs, but the relative proportions in the different areas remaining constant. That would mean about 30% of all engineers would be female - with a corresponding gender imbalance the other way in law, medicine, and the social sciences.

The graph is from Jonathan Kulick's excellent article on the subject, Math is Hard, in The Reality Based Community. The article also contains this little gem. Something that encapsulates - or encrapsulates - all that I despise in Post-Modernist Feminism.
The privileging of solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the inability of science to deal with turbulent flow at all, she attributes to the association of fluidity with femininity. Whereas men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids. Although men, too, flow on occasion—when semen is emitted, for example—this aspect of their sexuality is not emphasized. It is the rigidity of the male organ that counts, not its complicity in fluid flow. These idealizations are reinscribed in mathematics, which conceives of fluids as laminated planes and other modified solid forms. In the same way that women are erased within masculinist theories and language, existing only as not-men, so fluids have been erased from science, existing only as not-solids. From this perspective it is no wonder that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model for turbulence. The problem of turbulent flow cannot be solved because the conceptions of fluids (and of women) have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated remainders.
(Hayles, N. K. (1992) “Gender encoding in fluid mechanics: masculine channels and feminine flows,” Differences: A Journal Of Feminist Cultural Studies, 4(2):16–44.)
As he says - "Although this would have made Alan Sokal proud, it was not a hoax. Every woman fluid dynamicist I’ve shown this to has responded with an unladylike snort.".

Not just fluid dynamicists.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Today's Battle

This time, it's about Male Pregnancy.

At StopTheACLU, and Darwin Central (one of my regular haunts as a scientifically literate conservative), with a stopover at the US ABC News, WKRG...

I'll quote from my posts on Darwin Central:

Post 1
From The Advocate :
This whole process, from trying to get pregnant to being pregnant, has been a challenge for us. The first doctor we approached was a reproductive endocrinologist. He was shocked by our situation and told me to shave my facial hair. After a $300 consultation, he reluctantly performed my initial checkups. He then required us to see the clinic’s psychologist to see if we were fit to bring a child into this world and consulted with the ethics board of his hospital. A few months and a couple thousand dollars later, he told us that he would no longer treat us, saying he and his staff felt uncomfortable working with “someone like me.
...
How does it feel to be a pregnant man? Incredible. Despite the fact that my belly is growing with a new life inside me, I am stable and confident being the man that I am. In a technical sense I see myself as my own surrogate, though my gender identity as male is constant. To Nancy, I am her husband carrying our child—I am so lucky to have such a loving, supportive wife. I will be my daughter’s father, and Nancy will be her mother. We will be a family.”

Post 2
I don't know how he can bring himself to do it.

I know some Trans-guys. Going off their T-shots is like other guys having their balls removed, to put it impolitely. Very distressing for them. Doing it for at least a year.... it takes a heck of a man to do that.

It's worse too: the hormone levels during pregnancy go wayyy off the scale. They can cause real problems, post-partum psychosis. This guy knows that his neuro-anatomy will never be the same again afterwards, there will be permanent neurological changes. There's a small but non-zero risk that he'll become insane, and a larger one that his personality will be as altered as it would be from major cranial trauma. He risks his very selfhood, his identity, his personality.

Just to become a Father. Now *that* takes.... Balls.

Post 3
orionblamblam wrote:
>> Tiamat wrote:
Has anybody described why this guy can't adopt? (other than some potential mental flakiness) If he wants a kid why go to such lengths?

> Because adoption is bland. But by risking his life and his child's he can be "special."

Which is why you chose not to father children, but to adopt, right? And why pregnancy in women over 35 is socially sanctioned, as it "places mother and child at risk".

Depending on the jurisdiction, adoption is probably impossible anyway. No matter what the jurisdiction, it would not be as easy as you assume. There will probably be a legal battle so they can keep the child in any event.

I live in Canberra, Australia. Should I move to Western Australia, the Family Court there would immediately place our son in state care - no need for evidence, the state Family Court there does that as a matter of policy in all cases where one parent is Transsexual. The other parent doesn't get custody either, all contact is severed with both.

I constantly face a credibility problem. People not in this situation have difficulty believing that such things happen. Heck, I have difficulty believing some of the things that have happened to me. The 20 month legal battle just to get a passport, for example. The fact that I was initially issued a travel document good for leaving the country, but not returning, even though I'm a citizen. The fact that I have to spend a whole day travelling interstate for a 15 minute medical appointment every few months, as none of the endocrinologists within 200 miles will treat "people like me". I live in the capital city, BTW, the largest inland city in the country, so its not like I'm in a remote rural area with few medical services. There's 12 accredited Universities here.

I don't want to engage in competitive victimology, and I usually don't mention things like this. Australia is one of the most trans-friendly places on Earth, and those elsewhere have it far worse. But when ill-informed - not malicious, or unreasonably ignorant, just ill-informed - comments such as these are made, maybe I should make a fuss. You quite naturally assume that certain rights you take for granted - the right to adopt, the right to keep children you already have, the right to marry, the right to have children if you're capable of it, the right not to be left to die at a hospital if injured in a car crash - are applicable to Transsexual and Intersexed people. Some are. But many are not. And the ones that are, we often have to fight for to get them actually granted, no matter what the law might say.

It would never occur to you. I don't blame you. But I do think you have a responsibility to do a little research on the matter once it's been brought to your attention. Don't take my word for it, for I can hardly be objective, look things up yourself. The TS Q&A on DC University is a good start.

And I'd be glad to help. Society doesn't need changing, but it does need educating; and if I have a problem due to that, it's my responsibility to help others educate themselves, not for others to find data they have no inkling even exists.

Post 4
orionblamblam wrote:
> It sucks. But *my* interests are not always paramount. Nor are yours. And nor are the interests of someone whose body is a biochemical wreck.

I take what I said before back: Not all the good ones are married or gay. You're a counterexample, and I truly hope that one lucky woman has the sense to recognise that soon. With an attitude like that, you'd make a great father, and I hope that's in your future.

We have a misunderstanding. Several, in fact, and I'll try to clear them up.

Every pregnancy is risky. Some are riskier than others. After age 35, the chances of birth defects steadily rise. By age 45, it's something like 1 in 4. Most will cause spontaneous abortions, and those that don't often can be detected and sometimes corrected. But there's always a risk, no matter what the age. It's not a binary, risk or no risk, it's a difference of degree, and deciding what risk is acceptable.

In this case, I doubt that the risk to the child is any greater than for a woman his age who has had PCOS - polycystic ovarian syndrome. I don't know what the increase in hazard there is, but it would be non-zero. There's no reason to believe that it would be an unacceptable or unreasonable risk, as far as I know.

The risk of temporary psychosis is also there in any pregnancy. The hormone roller-coaster he's already been through may be protective, or may increase the risk, we don't know. We can't be certain, any more than we can in any other pregnancy. Less so.

The risk of permanent personality change is increased though. Women who become mothers get hit with such spectacularly high hormone levels that there are permanent neural changes easily detectable by dynamic MRI. These may or may not lead to permanent effects on the personality, effects comparable to those that happen at puberty. For a man to get the same hormone levels would have incalculable consequences on his mind. Change, not damage as such, and functionality can increase rather than decrease. But he may never be the same again. He can't know. It's a risk. There will be a functioning person in his body afterwards, one whose mind strongly resembles his: but he realises it may not be the same person he is today.

I've been through this kind of thing three times, with noticeable (minor) changes to my very identity each time. Once due to a partial male puberty at 15. Once due to E-II Encephalomeningitis at age 20. Once due to a partial female puberty at 47. The hormone replacement therapy I started after that last has had no effect, other than to maintain the status quo. We think. I'd rather not conduct the experiment to find out.

I console myself with two thoughts: the first is that I had no choice in the matter in any of the occasions. The second is that the person we are today is not quite the same person we were yesterday. We learn, we grow. It's indistinguishable from day to day, but inescapably evident from decade to decade. So it's a matter of degree rather than kind.

In summary -
1. The guy is not a "biochemical wreck" taking insane risks in trying to have a healthy child. He's taking a gamble at odds no worse than many mothers have to.
2. The risks of the baby being fatherless afterwards are comparable with the risk most babies have of being motherless. I include the risk of death in childbirth and post-partum psychosis.
3. He does have an incalculable risk of changes in his personality amounting to personal extinction. But this is his risk, and would not affect his child.

If it helps - I know of 3 similar cases in Australia. In two, it turned out well for the child, and I don't have enough information about the third. But we don't have a large enough sample to say what the additional risks are.

Please pardon me if I supply less data than I'd like to on risks of pregnancy. I find researching it most distressing, as I never did come to terms with the fact that I was unable to bear children myself. I know many other women can't, and I consider myself very fortunate to have the second prize of fatherhood. I really did qualify as a "biochemical wreck" you see, not that I knew that at the time. I was lucky, and the many miscarriages we had on the way before we hit the jackpot we blamed on the technical method we were forced to use, not my own biological catastrophe. The diagnosis from the Fertility Clinic was "mildly intersexed male" then. It wasn't until 5 years later that we found it should have been "severely intersexed female".

But then, had we known, I would never have taken the risk, and my son would not exist.

Post 5
orionblamblam wrote:
> Life, as I'm sure you're aware, can be impressively unfair. And while a defiant stance against that is certainly noble, at some point one must recognize that sometimes the reality is that you can never have what you want. And screaming and hollaring about it and trying to force your preferences on others (including potential offspring) will not help and will not work. Your DNA is all fucked up (I'm assuming).
Having recently met others with the same really rare syndrome - and it has to be at least 1 in a million, probably one in several million - and having compared various skeletal and endocrine anomalies we all have in common - then yes, it looks like your assumption is correct.

Most genetic diseases have "tells", minor anomalies that individually fall within 3 Standard Deviations of the norm, but which taken together show a mutation or single developmental anomaly was responsible. Now we don't know the cause for sure, but now it seems it's probably a minor coding error on a gene yet to be identified.

Some of us have had children, and although the miscarriage and SID rate is high, the surviving kids thrived. My own son is mildly intersexed, but so are 1 in 60 of the population at large.

Anyway, any female reproductive tissue I had was so vestigial it could never have worked, and was removed 30 years ago. And the male reproductive tissue worked partially for perhaps 5 years before becoming completely useless. I had that removed just over a year ago. So the point is moot.

I know of two cases coming up for surgery soon where the diagnosis of "transsexual woman" has been changed to "intersexed woman" as the result of pre-op medical tests. In one case, the female reproductive bits just may be salvageable. We're all crossing fingers for her anyway.
> A physically female woman who has been chopped up and zapped full of alien chemicals such that she now has the physical characteristics of a male pretty much *is* by definition a biochemical wreck. Her body has been extenally forced to become something it was not, if you'll excuse the use of ID-ish terminology, "meant to be."

*SIGH*
I'll take that as actually saying
A physically female man who has been chopped up and zapped full of alien chemicals such that he now has the physical characteristics of a male pretty much *is* by definition a biochemical wreck. His body has been externally forced to become something it was not, if you'll excuse the use of ID-ish terminology, "meant to be."

I'll excuse the ID-ish terminology. And I won't criticise the thought: you're not saying it's a case of Human Intervention being Against God's Plan, it's a case of the foetal and post-birth development being screwed up. From the chromosomes, He should have been She. Just as I should have been a He (gosh, that feels weird saying that). The genetic "plan" went awry, either coffee was spilt on the blueprints, or they were read upside down, or materials weren't available so they had to alter it during construction...

I think I'm right in saying that there's a difference in philosophy. If I understand you correctly, you take a look at the world, see how many children don't have good home lives, and think "We don't need another, especially one who has a higher probability than usual of having a tough break to start."

I'll concede your point. I do think though that it would be more productive to concentrate on reducing the number of "crack babies" and those with foetal alcohol syndrome first. This guy has overcome challenges you can't comprehend easily, so should be somewhere near the last on the list of those denied parenthood, not the first. More importantly, I can guarantee that any child he bears will have love and a caring environment, not something that can usually be guaranteed in this world.

> Life, as I mentioned, is unfair. For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

All the more reason to reduce the unfairness and tears when we can then, isn't there?

But of course, I can hardly be objective in this kind of situation.

Post 6
It's not the first time.... although numbers are small, we do know that the risks are not severe...

http://www.janamarcus.com/docus/TransPresentation/sld015.htm

It's just that not many people know about it.

Post 8 (7 skipped)
phantomworker wrote:
> You may have described a multivariate, multidimensional spectrum view of sexuality. Thinking in terms of a single dimension, sexuality may range from none to homo-, bi-, and hetereosexuality. Transsexuality or intersexuality fits in that continuum as well.

Different dimensional axes though:
Homo-, Hetero-, Bi- sexuality -> Who you want to go to bed with
Gender -> Who you want to go to bed as
There are other axes too: what does your body look like, does it match your gender? And does your societal behaviour match your gender? My match in that last area is not exact: I have the instincts of one, the learned behaviour of another. So that's 3 additional dimensions.

Most intersexed children are just normal girls or boys, with a defect in their body plan. All transsexual children are just normal girls or boys, where the defect is extreme. A minority of intersexed children don't fit into the categories "male" or "female", there are not-males, not-females, neuters, androgynes...

It gets complicated too. Children may be forced into roles, behaviour, and through surgery and hormones, bodily appearance that does not fit them. I deal with many Intersexed people where the surgeons "guessed wrong" when re-constructing their genitalia many years ago, sometimes when they were only days old. It gets even more complicated in the minority of Intersex conditions lumped together as "serial heraphroditism", where the body plan changes from looking mostly like one sex to looking mostly like the other. That presents extreme challenges for those who have it who are strongly gendered - take my word for it. Either waking up from a living Nightmare, or descending into one. I lucked out there.


There are 19 previous cases recorded in a movie - Transparent.
Pink or blue. Male or Female. Mommy or Daddy. Categories that we all take for granted are blown wide open in “transparent,” a new documentary film about 19 female-to-male transsexuals living in the United States who have given birth and, in all but a few stories, gone on to raise their biological children.
“transparent” focuses on its subjects’ lives as parents – revealing the diverse ways in which each person reconciles this part of their history - giving birth and being biological mothers - now that they identify as male and are perceived by the world, but only sometimes by their children, as men. The first-person stories in "transparent" explain how changing genders is dealt with and impacts the relationships, if at all, within these families.
This film has a shocking façade - as a story about transsexual parents – but viewers will be struck by its universality. The subjects resonate powerfully as “normal” parents and human beings dealing with issues like single parenthood, teen pregnancy and their children’s emotional and physical development.
But through these extraordinary men, the film challenges, like never, before the ways that we relate to one another, particularly within our immediate families, based on gender.
"normal" parents rather than "normal parents". Oh well, one step at a time.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

In the Shadow of the Moon

I've just come back from a pre-screening of In the Shadow of the Moon, the story of the Apollo astronauts.

Present were a motley band from the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex, various students from the Australian National University, and veterans of the Apollo program tracking and communications network, from Honeysuckle Creek, Tidbinbilla, and Parkes. The people who made it happen. Those to whom it wasn't just a documentary, but a diary of what they did, 40 years ago.

It's a Chick Flick. Yes, there's lots on the hardware, and some footage I'd not seen before. But mainly it's a narrative by old men in their 70's, of what they did all those years ago, when they "came in Peace for all Mankind". The lines on their faces bespeak their age, but they still have the same fires burning within them. Perhaps a little more cynical now that they don't have to perform as a PR exercise, certainly self-effacing, but Men, Men amongst Men even now. They speak not so much about their accomplishments, but how they felt, a spiritual and emotional side hidden behind the Antiseptic Facade of Astronautism. Especially poignant was one revelation: that while their friends were flying and sometimes dying in Vietnam, fighting their war, they felt unworthy, "not doing their part", just being show-ponies in the newspapers.

They seem more puzzled than angry at the various conspiracy theories about how they couldn't have done what they did. The tracking station personnel though, their views on the subject are both sulpherous and unprintable. Having one's accomplishments dismissed, and one's narratives ignored by the chattering ignoramae will do that.

I know how they feel.

The first question asked of the Director of the Canberra DSC Complex after the film was about plans for return. She still stuck to the official line that it will be in 10 years, perhaps 15. Well, given the likelihood of a President Obama, we could add 8 to that. The next question - by some troublemaking space blogger - was whether the language in the first permanent Lunar base would be English or Mandarin. She dodged that one deftly, saying only that the agreed language of the European Space Agency was English.

The final remark was a vote of thanks to the US of A. You see, while at the time we all claimed credit as Human Beings for this achievement, we only did so after the USA had done the job for us. We, the audience, noted that, and did not forget that this was an American effort, one we had a small part in, but an American effort nonetheless. At a time when the US gets all the blame for its many failings, and not a shred of credit for its numerous successes, when we are no longer a united Humanity, it's time that credit goes where credit is due.

Recommended.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

The 7 Deadly Sins - A Practical Guide

Since I'm supposed to be in "a bottomless pit of depravity", dragging innocent victims along with me, I better give some practical advice to those intent on sin.

Everyone knows the 7 deadly sins in theory. But practical sin usually has to be some combination of at least 2 of them. So without further ado.. from GetReligion.Org:



But wait! The original author has updated the diagram in accordance with the Vatican's latest advice on the subject.



Of course I gave attribution in the above. I'd never steal from anyone...

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Who Knew?

Some people who I've never met don't like me. Really don't like me.
The Coming Nightmare of a “Transsexual Rights
and Hate Crimes" Law in Massachusetts:


...transgender/transsexual” activists... want to offer your children on the bloody altar of transsexuality -- pulling them into sex-change operations involving unimaginable bodily mutilations and hormonal manipulations.
...
The culture of death has created a compulsion in the souls of the homosexual radicals and their "trans" allies, driving them ever further into new perversions. There is no bottom to this pit of depravity, and they will drag many innocent victims along with them: the young, the lonely, the psychologically and physically wounded, the confused – including some of your children and grandchildren, family, friends and neighbors. There will be no safe haven. You cannot cocoon in your homes or churches. Our public schools, businesses, public accommodations (which may include churches), your employers and insurers, will all be forced to yield to yet-undefined perversions, protected by law.

That's on just the first page of a mammoth 125-page "report" by the Hate Group "MassResistance" (You'll find them on the list just under the "Nation of Islam" and the "American National Socialist Workers' Party").

Gosh. Oh well, I guess it makes a change from the usual charges of using the blood of Christian children to make matzoh balls. And I'm not even Jewish.

From their site, crowing about their victory (the bill was tabled, leaving only gays and lesbians protected, as they have been for 20 years):
We went at them full blast. We published an explosive 125-page report on the bill and exposed exactly what it would do. We went on the media – newspaper, Internet news, and radio – and further exposed the bill and the movement behind it. We made sure that literally thousands of you contacted the Legislature and demanded that this bill not go forward.
Emphasis as in the original.

Oi Ve. Who knew?

Friday, 21 March 2008

Expelled!

It's not often I go into gales of helpless laughter. But this one.... well, read on.

From PZ Myers at Pharyngula:
There is a rich, deep kind of irony that must be shared. I'm blogging this from the Apple store in the Mall of America, because I'm too amused to want to wait until I get back to my hotel room.

I went to attend a screening of the creationist propaganda movie, Expelled, a few minutes ago. Well, I tried … but I was Expelled! It was kind of weird — I was standing in line, hadn't even gotten to the point where I had to sign in and show ID, and a policeman pulled me out of line and told me I could not go in. I asked why, of course, and he said that a producer of the film had specifically instructed him that I was not to be allowed to attend. The officer also told me that if I tried to go in, I would be arrested. I assured him that I wasn't going to cause any trouble.

I went back to my family and talked with them for a while, and then the officer came back with a theater manager, and I was told that not only wasn't I allowed in, but I had to leave the premises immediately. Like right that instant.

I complied.
Oh but wait, it gets better.
They singled me out and evicted me, but they didn't notice my guest. They let him go in escorted by my wife and daughter. I guess they didn't recognize him. My guest was …

Richard Dawkins.
You think they'd have let PZ Myers in. As the official blog on the official EXPELLED!!! website says in its headline:
It’s (EXPELLED) going to appeal strongly to the religious, the paranoid, the conspiracy theorists, and the ignorant –– which means they’re going to draw in about 90% of the American market.”
-Atheist blogger and fabulist PZ Myers, on a film he has not yet seen.
And won't get to, while they EXPEL him. Of course he might know a bit about it, seeing that he appears in the movie, in a carefully-edited clip taken out of context and by deception.

But wait, and this is where it really gets hilarious.

From the Antievolution Discussion Board, an eyewitness account.
The only reason that they didn't throw Dawkins out is that they were apparently too f*cking stupid to recognize him! They didn't even recognize him when he sat through the film - not until he rose to speak, after being called on - by said producer, MARK MATHIS - at the Q&A. Holy sh*t, the blood drained from his face then!
Richard Dawkins appears in the film too.

You can't make this stuff up.

It's Elementary

Tom Lehrer's song The Elements. An Animated movie.

A Bit of a Worry

The underside of the Space Shuttle is coated with black tiles, rather than the white ones on top.

Now this sign may be due to some brain-dead legal requirement. Or it may be a bit of a joke. But it's a bit of a worry nonetheless.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

A Stroke of Genius

Seen via ImpactED Nurse, one of the most inspirational speeches I know of.



What happens when a Neuroanatomist realises she's having a stroke - so can observe stuff first hand!. At first she's excited, as of course you would be. Well, as I would be. As I was, when some weird medical stuff went down with me. Then she realises "Oh wait, I don't have time for this..." and struggles to get help as her brain becomes more and more dysfunctional, parts shutting down, and she knows what work-arounds to use as she's progressively unable to think in certain areas.

Eventually she emerges eight years later not quite the same person she was before. There have been cognitive deficits. There have also been cognitive gains, and an explosion of creativity.

Her description is the mirror-image of how I felt recovering from some anaesthesia recently, which suppressed my left hemisphere more than my right. Rather than shutting down, I was booting up. I felt no regret leaving Nirvana, though it was a nice place to be. But only to visit: I wouldn't want to live there, I have duties to perform, people to help.

It did feel odd to have arms and legs again though, to have a body. I know it's necessary, but it seems all a little... slipshod. Slapdash. A work-around that lets us interact with each other in a more meaningful way than the rather intellectual stuff elsewhere. Of course, that's just the musings of a partly-functional brain bootstrapping itself. Isn't it?

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

The Bad Old Days

Some quotes from the bad old days of 50 years ago:

After the lynching of two black children in Alabama and Mississippi, a Grand Dragon of the KKK said:
Obviously murder is murder, there’s no excuse for that. I think we’re seeing a backlash, in other words if you push me too hard don’t be surprised if I react. Blacks will tend to react violently if people are oppressive toward them. If blacks are oppressive toward whites, then you’ll see a violent backlash.
And a representative of the Christian White Women of America said of the Black Civil Rights movement:
I honestly think it's the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than the atomic bomb or communism.

Well, they may have. Certainly similar things were said in 1958. But nothing like that could be said today, could it? Not outside a racist chat-room. Certainly no elected official could say anything like that. Well, I thought so until recently. Now just read what some elected officials - all Republicans I'm ashamed to say - are saying now, blatantly, openly, and shamelessly:
Just Out: What is your reaction to the recent murders of out gay youth in Florida and California?

Oregon State Senator Gary George (R): Obviously murder is murder, there’s no excuse for that. Here’s what I’m saying, I think we’re seeing a backlash, in other words if you push me too hard don’t be surprised if I react. Gays will tend to react violently if people are oppressive toward them. If gays are oppressive toward straights, then you’ll see a violent backlash.
And from Oklahoma State Representative Sally Kern (R), about "The Homosexual Agenda" :
"I honestly think it's the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam."
There is another difference: in 1958, the situation was getting better. In 2008, the situation is getting worse. These people are getting bolder. And the rate of fatal provable hate crimes against transgendered and gay people has now increased to one every 8 days - most of them trangender, and one in 4, children.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Analytic and Synthetic Brains

Analytic vs Synthetic, Artificial vs Natural, Designed or Emergent....

There are two basic ways of making a system to do something. In one, you analyse what it is you're trying to achieve, then try to make something that meets one or more of those requirements, refining as you go. In the other, you have a system that meets the requirements, though you don't know the mechanism, how it does it. So you try to make something similar, and see what happens, finding out by instrumenting it what it does and how it does it.

The quest for artificial intelligence has concentrated on the first technique. Until now. The illustration to the left shows a Rat Brain neocortical column. Part of a rat's brain. An artificial one.

From SeedMagazine.com :
In the basement of a university in Lausanne, Switzerland sit four black boxes, each about the size of a refrigerator, and filled with 2,000 IBM microchips stacked in repeating rows. Together they form the processing core of a machine that can handle 22.8 trillion operations per second. It contains no moving parts and is eerily silent. When the computer is turned on, the only thing you can hear is the continuous sigh of the massive air conditioner. This is Blue Brain.

The name of the supercomputer is literal: Each of its microchips has been programmed to act just like a real neuron in a real brain. The behavior of the computer replicates, with shocking precision, the cellular events unfolding inside a mind. "This is the first model of the brain that has been built from the bottom-up," says Henry Markram, a neuroscientist at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the director of the Blue Brain project. "There are lots of models out there, but this is the only one that is totally biologically accurate. We began with the most basic facts about the brain and just worked from there."
...
Terry Sejnowski, an eminent computational neuroscientist at the Salk Institute, declared that Blue Brain was "bound to fail," for the mind remained too mysterious to model. But Markram's attitude was very different. "I wanted to model the brain because we didn't understand it," he says. "The best way to figure out how something works is to try to build it from scratch."
...
The computer screen is filled with what look like digitally rendered tree branches. Schürmann zooms out so that the branches morph into a vast arbor, a canopy so dense it's practically opaque. "This," he proudly announces, "is a virtual neuron. What you're looking at are the thousands of synaptic connections it has made with other [virtual] neurons." When I look closely, I can see the faint lines where the virtual dendrites are subdivided into compartments. At any given moment, the supercomputer is modeling the chemical activity inside each of these sections so that a single simulated neuron is really the sum of 400 independent simulations. This is the level of precision required to accurately imitate just one of the 100 billion cells—each of them unique—inside the brain. When Markram talks about building a mind from the "bottom-up," these intracellular compartments are the bottom. They are the fundamental unit of the model.
...
"The simulation is getting to the point," Schürmann says, "where it gives us better results than an actual experiment. We get the same data, but with less noise and human error." The model, in other words, has exceeded its own inputs. The virtual neurons are more real than reality.
...
"We were all emotionally prepared for failure," Markram says. "But I wasn't so prepared for what actually happened."
...
This is what makes the model so impressive: It manages to simulate a real neocortical column—a functional slice of mind—by simulating the particular details of our ion channels. Like a real brain, the behavior of Blue Brain naturally emerges from its molecular parts.
"The behaviour naturally emerges from its molecular parts"... simulate the ion channels to sufficient accuracy, you get behaviour like a nerve cell. Simulate clusters of nerve cells to sufficient accuracy, and you get behaviour like part of a brain. Simulate parts of a brain with sufficient accuracy...
But there's a few practical problems right now.
In fact, the model is so successful that its biggest restrictions are now technological. "We have already shown that the model can scale up," Markram says. "What is holding us back now are the computers." The numbers speak for themselves. Markram estimates that in order to accurately simulate the trillion synapses in the human brain, you'd need to be able to process about 500 petabytes of data (peta being a million billion, or 10 to the fifteenth power). That's about 200 times more information than is stored on all of Google's servers. (Given current technology, a machine capable of such power would be the size of several football fields.) Energy consumption is another huge problem. The human brain requires about 25 watts of electricity to operate. Markram estimates that simulating the brain on a supercomputer with existing microchips would generate an annual electrical bill of about $3 billion . But if computing speeds continue to develop at their current exponential pace, and energy efficiency improves, Markram believes that he'll be able to model a complete human brain on a single machine in ten years or less.
Wow.
"If you're interested in computing," Schürmann says, "then I don't see how you can't be interested in the brain. We have so much to learn from natural selection. It's really the ultimate engineer."
Well, I am working on evolutionary computation in my PhD; and that's because I'm interested in brains. I think we'll have to evolve, to grow true Artificial Intelligence, not design and manufacture it.
Some philosophers, like Thomas Nagel, have argued that this divide between the physical facts of neuroscience and the reality of subjective experience represents an epistemological dead end. No matter how much we know about our neurons, we still won't be able to explain how a twitch of ions in the frontal cortex becomes the Technicolor cinema of consciousness.

Markram takes these criticisms seriously. Nevertheless, he believes that Blue Brain is uniquely capable of transcending the limits of "conventional neuroscience," breaking through the mind-body problem. According to Markram, the power of Blue Brain is that it can transform a metaphysical paradox into a technological problem. "There's no reason why you can't get inside Blue Brain," Markram says. "Once we can model a brain, we should be able to model what every brain makes. We should be able to experience the experiences of another mind."
...
When listening to Markram speculate, it's easy to forget that the Blue Brain simulation is still just a single circuit, confined within a silent supercomputer. The machine is not yet alive. And yet Markram can be persuasive when he talks about his future plans. His ambitions are grounded in concrete steps. Once the team is able to model a complete rat brain—that should happen in the next two years—Markram will download the simulation into a robotic rat, so that the brain has a body.
So we should see if this path is a goer within the next two years. And we may just be able to make a self-aware creature in that time frame. And that will lead to all sorts of ethical considerations. Is a Robot Rat that can pass the Turing test at the molecular level alive? I think so. It's a Rat, implemented on different hardware. It will be able to feel pain, be frightened, crave affection... And the upshot of all this, the final goal?
But the question remains: How do you know what the rat knows? How do you get inside its simulated cortex? This is where visualization becomes key. Markram wants to simulate what that brain experiences. It's a typically audacious goal, a grand attempt to get around an ancient paradox. But if he can really find a way to see the brain from the inside, to traverse our inner space, then he will have given neuroscience an unprecedented window into the invisible. He will have taken the self and turned it into something we can see.
We will be able to make a properly instrumented version of ourselves, of our minds. One that will be able to give us understanding of ourselves, how we think and why. A Mirror of the Mind.

Singularity, anyone?

But there's another, even more exciting (albeit remote) possibility. What if it doesn't work? What happens if we can simulate in enough detail all the steps leading to Mind, and we'll have cross-checked that each step of the way - what happens if no Mind results? It wouldn't be conclusive evidence, but it would strongly suggest that Mind, that Self, is not an inescapable consequence of the brain's anatomy, the way that the Mona Lisa is an inescapable consequence of a particular arrangement of pigments and canvas. It would be evidence, not proof, but evidence, that there was something more, something we've missed. Something not physical, but metaphysical, not natural, but supernatural. It would be the first evidence for a longstanding conjecture, something that would promote it to a hypothesis. The existence of the Soul.

And wouldn't that be interesting?

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Gilding the Lilly

Humans have rights. The right to privacy, for example. The right, absent evidence that they would harm their children, to see those children. The right to marry in the first place. The right not to be made figures of public scorn and derision, to be called "it" and have their very humanity denied.

Others don't have those rights. The contrast can be seen clearly at http://clipsyndicate.com/publish/video/541159?wpid=1904



From USA Today OnLine
http://blogs.usatoday.com/ondeadline/2008/03/woman-goes-to-c.html
Jennifer Jack says she didn't realize that her ex-husband, Andrew Mireles, was a woman until after their marriage ended, according to KRIV-TV.

"It's actually a very bizarre set of facts. There's no way around that," attorney London O'Dowd tells Fox News Channel.

He says Jack was 16 when she met the 21-year-old Mireles.

"He, and with the help of his family, were able to convince her and her family and everyone around her them that she was a he," the lawyer says.

O'Dowd says his client learned the truth about her ex-husband, who has not undergone a sex-change operation, when she came across a yearbook photo of Phyllis Ann Mireles.

Mireles, however, claims that he told his wife the truth about 18 months into their relationship.

"We talked about it, discussed it and then we decided to stay together ... she decided to stay with me," Mireles tells the local Fox affiliate.

Either way, now that a judge has nullified their marriage, Jack wants the court to order Mireles to stay away from the two children they were raising
There's more (unconfirmed) detail from a (supposed) family member in the comments section (spelling as in the original)
I knew Andrew/Phyllis for 10 years I never once suspected he was a female. Andrew is a pathological liar and has carried this lie on for half his life. As far as the sex he claimed he was a hermaphidite (which was never shared with the family for privacy)and was embarassed for anyone to see him nude. He always wore a shirt and boxers and she was not allowed to touch him.
...
She did have one indiscretion during a brief seperation before they married and never thought the 1st child was anyone but Andrew's. The second child was conceived by insemination since she was unable to get pregnant. Well it would help if Andrew had all the male parts! The sperm was bought over the internet and the child was created in their home.
...
Andrew is a convicted felon for buglarizing a former employer and is on parole. His parole can be revolked now for falsifying State documents (Marriage License). Yes he served his time in a male detetion facility.
...
His family even stood at the wedding and let it go on knowing he was truly a girl. That is sick in its own way!
The complainant is an innocent flower not intimately (so to speak) familiar with male anatomy. Despite her getting pregnant before marriage, by a man not her husband. It was not having sex, it was an indiscretion. Right...

She didn't have to gild the lilly, Even if Andrew had had his Birth Certificate changed, as is possible in some states after "top surgery", even if he'd had the $100,000 "bottom surgery", the one with the 30% success rate (and so *not* required for gender recognition) , a Texas court would still have anulled the marriage. Even if the ex-wife was told all the details.

From the Court Decision in Kantaras vs Kantaras:
"Courts in Ohio, Kansas, Texas, and New York have addressed issues involving the marriage of a postoperative transsexual person, and in all cases the courts have invalidated or refused to allow the marriage on the grounds that it violated state statutes or public policy.
...
We agree with the Kansas, Ohio, and Texas courts in their understanding of the common meaning of male and female, as those terms are used statutorily, to refer to immutable traits determined at birth.
...
Our holding that the marriage is void ab initio does not take into consideration the best interests of the children involved in this case. While we recognize that the trial judge went to great lengths to determine the best interests of the children, the issue of deciding primary residential custody was dependent on the trial court's conclusion that the marriage was valid."

Source : http://www.jenburke.com/2005/02/kantaras-v-kantaras.html

Let's see... if the comment isn't bogus, this guy has served time in a male correctional facility, was married in front of his own family, and yet is still "Really a GIRL!!!!!!!!! (Shock Horror)". And HIS wife only just found out after the divorce, and two pregnancies. One of which she really, truly thought was due to him, honest.

Of course, under normal circumstances, a guy whose fiance was pregnant by another man might be less understanding when it came to actually getting married. But sometimes love really is blind. And you might expect a guy who was willing to bring up another man's child as his own might get some respect.

I'll leave aside the "buying sperm over the Internet" bit. I'm not buying it, anyway. So to speak.

So he did it twice. Now by his own admission, he didn't reveal his medical past until wayyy too late, but you can see why he might have thought a woman so evidently experienced at a young age when it came to sex might actually know that his apparatus wasn't the standard factory model on his wedding night. Assuming she waited that long, but that's a safe assumption, innocent lass as she is, honest as the day is long.

But divorce - and the usual child support - wasn't good enough for her, when things went sour. No, in order to really put the boot in, she needed to cut off his visitation rights (being unable to cut anything else off), and send him to jail for "falsifying state documents" or whatever.

But she's Human, so it's her right to do that. And the media and court system will gladly oblige. And leave two small children, children without a father, in her tender care.

I'm glad I live in Australia. Where all people are humans, not just some, and have rights.

50 Not Out

My half century.

I wondered when I was 10 what I'd be doing when I was 50 years old. 2008 seemed so far off in 1968.

Oddly enough, my predictions weren't that far off the mark. I'm still working on my PhD rather than being Dr Brain, and I don't have a large family, but close enough.

The one area I got completely wrong was where I'd be living. Wrong planet. No Moonbase One for this little Zoe. And I think that if ever I'm to make it, I better start learning Mandarin.
"In German - Or Englisch
I know how to Count Down.
And I'm learning Chinese"
said Werner Von Braun





sì..sān..èr..yī..LING

Or maybe I'll go the cryonics route, live forever or die in the attempt. We'll see. Life is still full of exciting possibilities.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

You Do What You Have To Do

Being a parent is an awesome responsibility. Being a parent is hard. But for those of us who are Intersexed or Transsexual, it's often becoming a parent that's hardest. Having the wrong shaped genitalia is very uncomfortable, but for those of us lucky enough to have a working reproductive system, we should consider ourselves lucky that pregnancy's not completely impossible, as it is for so many of us.

Transition usually means becoming sterile, if you aren't already. I was - my reproductive system was effectively wrecked early on in my unusual change. It had been marginal before, requiring technical intervention for pregnancy; but within a few weeks of the first symptoms showing, an exam by an endocrinologist showed my reproductive glands were dysfunctional. To be brutal, they were "soft and shrunken". My childbearing - or the equivalent - days were over.

The pillar that had sustained me all those years, since age 15, had collapsed. I never considered not transitioning after that - never even gave the idea a thought until I was actually on the operating table, when I thought it would be a really good idea to review things, just in case there was anything I'd missed. Or rather, would miss. There wasn't. Even though at that stage I had no idea just how wonderful normality would feel....

As I said, transition usually means becoming sterile. But not always.
From Advocate.com:
This whole process, from trying to get pregnant to being pregnant, has been a challenge for us. The first doctor we approached was a reproductive endocrinologist. He was shocked by our situation and told me to shave my facial hair. After a $300 consultation, he reluctantly performed my initial checkups. He then required us to see the clinic’s psychologist to see if we were fit to bring a child into this world and consulted with the ethics board of his hospital. A few months and a couple thousand dollars later, he told us that he would no longer treat us, saying he and his staff felt uncomfortable working with “someone like me.”
Understandable in some ways. Reprehensible in others. Here is a couple who are willing to take "heroic measures" in every sense of the world, just to have a child. If ever anyone met the definition of "fit parents", they do.
How does it feel to be a pregnant man? Incredible. Despite the fact that my belly is growing with a new life inside me, I am stable and confident being the man that I am. In a technical sense I see myself as my own surrogate, though my gender identity as male is constant. To Nancy, I am her husband carrying our child—I am so lucky to have such a loving, supportive wife. I will be my daughter’s father, and Nancy will be her mother. We will be a family.
The details are different, but you know what? I know how he feels.

Friday, 14 March 2008

I've Actually Done This



But only when I was really, really tired.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Money Quote

From the much-misquoted Dr Milton Diamond, Biased-Interaction theory of psychosexual development: "how does one know if one is male or female?"
Prenatal programming and biasing work through alterations of the nervous system; thus can be said to reflect brain sex. During prenatal development the nervous system, the brain in particular, is programmed along a track that is usually concomitant with the development of other sex appropriate structures like genitals and reproductive organs. The brain, however, as in other Intersex conditions, can develop along one sex/gender path while other organs develop along another. Put simply, the brain can develop as male while other parts of the body develop as female. Further, it is important to recall that the developing nervous system controlling gender-linked behaviors is more sensitive to certain stimuli than are the tissues forming genitals and thus can be modified while the genitals are not. I think that transsexuals are intersexed in their brains.
Exactly.

Then there's this PDF diagram, which supposedly is satirical, though I've not found any area where it wasn't completely correct. It even gives references.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Global Terrorist Incidents

A World Map showing them. Updated every 5 minutes or so.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Childhood Memories



My parents are the couple in the lower left of the screen at 01:28, with my mother laughing her head off at 01:29-01:30. My sister is the teenager next to her, the one with the "Supremes" style hairdo, and is visible throughout much of the video.



And I'm the kid whose head is just visible in the extreme lower-left of the frame at 0:27 of that one, visible in the clip from 00:14. Of course I had short hair then....

In 1970, it was not unreasonable for such a marvellous toy robot to cost $100 million to build - especially since it was a generation old, indicating a construction date around 1945. Yes, I know it was supposed to be a social comment on the cost of the high-tech used in the Vietnam War, still going at the time, as well as the cost of the Opera House itself, but still...

Now I have my own little boy, and time has caught up with me. I turn 50 in just a few days. And I've given my son several robots that do rather more than that wonderful toy that would have cost $100 million of 38 years ago. As I thought I would, way back then. I didn't count on my female puberty being delayed until I was 47, nor that I would have to be my child's father, not his mother. They were, if not carefree, happy days. Ignorance was bliss.

I'm sorry that my father never saw his grandson - my Daddy died in 1993, and I have yet to gather enough emotional fortitude to visit his grave. I was the strong one during that period, and for several months after, when it was needed. It was only when the pressure of duty was off that I fell apart, and I haven't gotten quite together even now. Besides which, my son takes up all of my time. That's the way it's supposed to work. You pass on the marvellous toys, and maybe even improve them on the way.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

And yet more

Once more into the Breach, Dear Friends!

At Dr Warren Throckmorton's, TransCanada, Canadian Sentinel, ColossiansThreeSixteen....

*SIGH* When will it end? Not in my lifetime. So much ignorance, so little time. So many repetitions, giving the same data, correcting the same old misconceptions. Sometimes I'll reach a hundred like this, sometimes only one - or none. But every little bit helps, every little bit increases the odds of getting better legislation, greater human rights, more understanding, and yes, more sympathy. Not as in "Pity poor little me", but sympathy as in "I never knew...". Empathy. That's what's required in the long term, if we get that, the rest will naturally follow.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Today's Battle

At Newsbusters. Excelsior, etc.

Sometimes you just have to laugh, the situation, the extent of the hatred and persecution is just so surreal. Most is just from ignorance though, so is treatable.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Family

Picture (C) 2008 ACP Publications and may not be copied without permission - license to me is for personal use only



In Transition, you usually lose everything. But not always. And Marriages may change, but deep friendship and sisterhood remain. And always, always the love of a parent for her child.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Neural Dimorphism and Discrimination

Or in other words, Boys and Girls aren't just different between their legs, they differ between their ears too.

From Science Daily :
What was once speculation is now being confirmed by scientists: the brains of women and men are different in more ways than one.

Discoveries by scientists over the past 10 years have elucidated biological sex differences in brain structure, chemistry and function. “These variations occur throughout the brain, in regions involved in language, memory, emotion, vision, hearing and navigation,” explains Larry Cahill, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

While women and men struggle to communicate with each other and ponder why they don’t think and react to things in similar ways, science is proving that the differences in our brains may have more serious implications beyond our everyday social interactions.
That's a "Pop sci" view. The more abstruse articles sound something like this:
Sex differences in neural processing of language among children. Douglas D. Burmana, Tali Bitanc and James R. Bootha. Neuropsychologia. doi: 10.1016 / j.neuropsychologia.2007.12.021.

Abstract. Why females generally perform better on language tasks than males is unknown. Sex differences were here identified in children (ages 9–15) across two linguistic tasks for words presented in two modalities. Bilateral activation in the inferior frontal and superior temporal gyri and activation in the left fusiform gyrus of girls was greater than in boys. Activation in the left inferior frontal and fusiform regions of girls was also correlated with linguistic accuracy irregardless of stimulus modality, whereas correlation with performance accuracy in boys depended on the modality of word presentation (either in visual or auditory association cortex). This pattern suggests that girls rely on a supramodal language network, whereas boys process visual and auditory words differently. Activation in the left fusiform region was additionally correlated with performance on standardized language tests in which girls performed better, additional evidence of its role in early sex differences for language.
I try on my blog to give a view somewhere between the almost content-free but easily read PopSci, and the fact-filled but intellectually indigestible academic paper. (And parenthetically, note the young ages of the experimental subjects - this stuff happens before the gross changes to neuro-anatomy that occur with puberty. The functional difference is apparent before changes detectable at autopsy happen.)

One can take this dimorphism too far though.

It's undisputed that Swedes are taller, in the main, than Japanese. Yet no-one would exclude a 6ft 4" Japanese from a Basketball team because they were "too short", yet include a 5' Swede because "Swedes are tall". But we are constantly confronted with women being excluded from professions which are traditionally male, and the reverse. People differ, and just because most men have certain capabilities dictated by sex-specific neurology that most women lack, and the reverse, that doesn't mean we shouldn't treat everyone as individuals on their merits.

I've been accused of being an "essentialist" on several feminist blogs, simply because I've pointed out the scientific evidence of sexual dimorphism in the brain. I'm interested in the subject only partially because of my own unusual medical history, as a computer scientist of course I'm interested in the way we think, why and how. I'm also active in several groups, encouraging young women to become engineers and computer scientists, traditional male occupations. This is because neurology might explain why about 30% of engineers should be female, but can't explain why only 8-12% are in actuality. No, the fact that there isn't a 50/50 mix is not purely because of Male Patriarchal Privilege. But no, the fact that many young women are discouraged and dissuaded from taking up careers they are both interested in, and have talent for, is not because "men are better at it than women are". Having been on both sides of the fence (as it were), I'm acutely aware of the social sanctions that many women face in professional life. I'm the classic experiment, "take one person, and if they were perceived as male, see how they were treated, then with exactly the same qualifications and professional record, see how they were treated if they were female". I was an intellectual feminist before, though I had doubts as to the extent of the problem. Now, having experienced the difficulties myself, I realise that if anything, the problems were understated - though perhaps not as understated as the difficulties men face in some areas, difficulties that even they don't see they suffer from. They're lesser, but they exist. As regards my Feminism now, this time it's personal, and I have the facts behind me.

Gender is not purely a social construct, though much of the behaviour patterns we associate with gender specificity are. Both social construction and biological differentiation play roles. Too often we have two sides, one claiming that gender doesn't exist as an objective phenomenon outside social science (and by corollary, transsexual people don't actually exist except by social fiat, or as dupes or agents of the Patriarchy), while the other claims that men are men, women are women, and transsexual people don't exist, only the insane, the deluded, or those making a perverse political statement. Caught in the crossfire are those who see the gender binary as something quite real, but only as a really good approximation, not an Absolute and Universal Truth . People who are searching for facts, regardless of political or even theological consequences. And in a few cases, people whose narratives and accounts of their existence are denied by both sides simply because they are not in accordance with either view in its entirety. People whose very existence others find... inconvenient. If we're lucky, they ignore us. If not, they erase us.

And all this just from a minor glitch in neuro-anatomy, probably just a hormonal imbalance during the first trimester of gestation, and certainly something that happens to a proportion of the population quite naturally. Jeez, what a mess.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Today's Battle

At California Catholic Daily again. It's nice to have such politeness, other places can get a little rough.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Monday, 3 March 2008

Why We Fight

From Wikipedia :
Why We Fight is a series of seven propaganda films commissioned by the United States government during World War II to demonstrate to American soldiers the reason for U.S. involvement in the war. Later on they were also shown to the general U.S. public to persuade them to support American intervention.

Now I'd really like this blog to have a bit less activist content. I'd rather be blogging about the Space Programmes that will get Humanity to the stars - or at least the local neighbourhood out to the Oort cloud - in the next millenium or two. I'd prefer to blog about speculations on Cosmology, what the Universe is, along with humour, wit, and the endless fascination I have with this particular segment of the Multiverse. Sometimes measuring the marigolds (as to me that makes them even more wondrous), sometimes just pondering their beauty.

I've just spent a month of my life with some of the most wonderful people on the planet.

Looking at it objectively, consider a gathering of women comprising: A sound tech from Los Angeles; An NCO in the Canadian Armed Forces; A former US Artillery Officer and Tall Ship Sailor from Philadelphia; A world-renowned GeoScientist from Hawaii and her Fabulously talented Architect partner; A trainee nurse from Boston with a profoundly autistic teenage son; A Rocket Scientist from Australia; an on-call Radio-Tech with the ability to debug broadcasting antennae across the whole of North America from her cell-phone; a Radiographer from New England; I mean, this is a group that would be considered spectacular over-achievers anywhere else. Some of the kindest people on the planet too, and the most courageous. They had to be, as so many like us don't survive to middle-age. Why were they there, having travelled anything from hundreds of kilometres to halfway round the planet? To give support to two of their number who were having major surgery. They were there out of Love.

Why do such as we fight? Because of this :
A boy of 10 has been found hanged at his South Yorkshire home after telling his mum he wanted to be a girl.
Tragic Cameron McWilliams had already asked for permission to wear make-up, and been teased after he was found wearing his half-sister's knickers.

His desperate mum Kelly McWilliams told a Doncaster inquest she had bought him girls' underwear to wear in private, but had refused his requests to be allowed to wear make-up.

She said: "It was apparent he was unhappy and said he wanted to be a girl. He did like girls' things."
And this:
Lawrence “Larry” King was shot to death and the media thought that you didn’t need to know about it.

Larry, as you might have now learned, was fifteen and in his junior high school computer lab when Brandon McInerney, 14, followed through on a previously declared threat and shot King.

The mainstream media apparently didn’t think that you needed to know that King had recently come out as gay and had started to wear lipstick, mascara, earrings, and a pair of particularly fierce high heeled boots.

The first LA Times article on the shooting made no reference to Larry’s sexual orientation, or his manner of dress. When the mainstream media first reported the murder, it was stated that the violence stemmed from a “personal dispute” between the two boys.
And because of all the outright lies, distortions, and hatred spouted out by the "Concerned Women of America", "Traditional Values Alliance", and other supposedly conservative groups that are far more interested in gaining funds through Sensationalist misinformation and deliberate falsehood than in genuine conservative issues. Falsehoods that maliciously propagate ignorance, with tragic results to loving families. Falsehoods that lead to children dying, and I'm unable to forgive them for that while those groups still continue their mendacity. But we don't fight alone.
Youth groups across the country began holding marches in King’s honor. Details of his death was spread virally on youth-dominated, Facebook.
Old Chooks like me who get utterly incandescent with rage at the way children are dying to line others' pockets are encouraged and heartened by the younger generation. For all their faults, they're better than we were in some ways at that age, and I think their children will be better still.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

I'm Back

Normal Blogging will commence shortly.

In the meantime....
After the Montgomery County Council in Maryland added color to a law banning discrimination in public accommodations, citizens soon became aware that the new law would allow quadroons and octaroons who are confused about their racial identity to use the segregated bathroom or public shower facility of their choice. Theresa Rickman is director of Citizens for Responsible Government, the citizen group that launched a petition drive to have that law overturned.
Matt Barber, CWA's Policy Director for Cultural Issues, spoke with Theresa about the petition drive and the intimidation her volunteers faced from activist niggers in the county.

A Blast From the Past? The Bad Old Days of the KKK? Something from 1908 perhaps?
Not As Such, though I changed a few of the words to show just how deeply offensive the CWA is being here. The original was published on February 29th 2008.

"She-male" by the way is not only deeply offensive, but indicates the user has an unhealthy interest in a particular category of perverse pornography. The term is never found outside that genre.