Friday, 31 December 2010

What Really Happened to the Dinosaurs?

Theory #1

Theory #2

Theory #1.5

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Fuss about Firmaments - Cherrypicking the Bible

In my many and varied disputations on the Web regarding Transsex and Intersex issues, I've often come across those who flatly disbelieve the science, as it "contradicts the Bible". In particular, Genesis 1:27.
27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:27, King James Version)

But that got me thinking - always a very dangerous thing to do when looking at scripture. About some lines immediately before that. Genesis 1:6-10 and Genesis 1:14-18
6And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.

 7And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.

 8And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day.

 9And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so.

 10And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:6-10, King James Version)

14And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years:

 15And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so.

 16And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.

 17And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth,

 18And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:14-18, King James Version)
So what exactly is a Firmament anyway?

From Wiki :
The firmament or expanse was a great tent-like (Isaiah 40:22) ceiling made of solid crystalline material (Job 37:18 and Ezekiel 1:22), which might be pierced by skyscraper and gimlet (3 Baruch 3:7–8). It had many windows, some of which opened and closed for the sun and moon to travel through (1 Enoch 72:2–5) or to let water, which was held above, fall through as rain (Genesis 7:11). On top there were also warehouses of snow and hail (Job 38:22). Stars were small objects that were attached tenuously to its surface (Genesis 1:14–17, Daniel 8:10, Matthew 24:29, Mark 13:25, Revelation 6:13, 8:10, 9:1 and 12:4).
OK, it's Wiki, so let's ignore what it says and look at the original sources. Those (literally) Apocryphal are in Italics.

(Isaiah 40:22, King James Version)
22It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in:

(Job 37:18, King James Version)
18Hast thou with him spread out the sky, which is strong, and as a molten looking glass?

(Ezekiel 1:22, King James Version)
22And the likeness of the firmament upon the heads of the living creature was as the colour of the terrible crystal, stretched forth over their heads above.

(Baruch 3:7-8)
7 And the Lord appeared to them and confused their speech, when they had built the tower to the height of four hundred and sixty-three cubits. And they took a gimlet, and sought to pierce the heaven, saying,
8Let us see (whether) the heaven is made of clay, or of brass, or of iron. When God saw this He did not permit them, but smote them with blindness and confusion of speech, and rendered them as thou seest.

(1 Enoch 72:2-5)
2. And this is the first law of the luminaries: the luminary the Sun has its rising in the eastern portals of the heaven, and its setting in the western portals of the heaven.
3. And I saw six portals in which the sun rises, and six portals in which the sun sets and the moon rises and sets in these portals, and the leaders of the stars and those whom they lead: six in the east and six in the west, and all following each other in accurately corresponding order: also many windows to the right and left of these portals.
4. And first there goes forth the great luminary, named the Sun, and his circumference is like the circumference of the heaven, and he is quite filled with illuminating and heating fire.
5. The chariot on which he ascends, the wind drives, and the sun goes down from the heaven and returns through the north in order to reach the east, and is so guided that he comes to the appropriate portal and shines in the face of the heaven.

(Genesis 7:11, King James Version)
11In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.

(Job 38:22, King James Version)
22Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow? or hast thou seen the treasures of the hail,

Genesis 1:14-17 I've already mentioned.

(Daniel 8:10, King James Version)
10And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them.

(Matthew 24:29, King James Version)
29Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:

(Mark 13:25, King James Version)
25And the stars of heaven shall fall, and the powers that are in heaven shall be shaken.

(Revelation 6:13, King James Version)
13And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind.

(Revelation 8:10, King James Version)
10And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;

(Revelation 9:1, King James Version)
1And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.

(Revelation 12:4, King James Version)
4And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born.

Oh Crikey.

Well, it's interesting, in a surreal kind of way. Never mind, let's look at something else, my brain needs a clean-out after that stuff.


There's some argument as to how long a cubit actually was. It depends on who you ask, and when. But there's no argument that it meant about half a meter, perhaps a smidgin more. That leads me to a quick digression: one programme I was working on involved all sorts of measurements of length. Degrees of latitude. Thousands of feet. Flight levels. Cables. Metres. Nautical miles (admiralty). Fathoms. Nautical miles (US). Radar miles. Statute miles. Thousands of yards. It was all too easy to acquire some data in metres, possibly entered manually, possibly from a radar, and display it in miles (statute) instead of miles(radar).

So we converted on entry everything to cubits internally for all calculations, and explicitly de-converted it purely for display on screens, with appropriate units. We defined a cubit as 50cm exactly. Try to display a quantity of CUBITS_TYPE, and the system would barf - there was no such facility. It had to be the result of a CUBITS_TO_KILOFEET function (in KILOFEET_TYPE), or a CUBITS_TO_RADAR_MILES (in RADAR_MILES_TYPE) or whatever. All I can say is that it worked, and we never had any problems with feeding out a quantity in miles instead of kilometers, and causing Bad Stuff(tm) to happen. As happened with the Mars Climate Orbiter.

OK, end of digression, back to Holy Scripture.

I can understand, in an intellectual way, how someone might decide that a book is God's Holy Word, literally true in every respect. What I can't understand though is someone claiming that that's what they believe... yet not campaigning against the obvious frauds and giant conspiracies by Scientists and Evil-utionists: "Meteorology" and "Space Travel". Think of the money that could be saved if to get to the moon, all one would have to do is find spot where the tower of Babel was built, and erect a structure 463 cubits, no more, no less, high. Call it 250 metres or so.

Rather shorter than the Empire State Building, at 383 metres.

For a well-researched theological analysis of the Firmament, see THE FIRMAMENT AND THE WATER ABOVE by P.H.Seeley, Westminster Theological Journal 53 (1991) 227-40 . This covers Egyptian, Sumerian, Babylonian and other cosmologies (as well as Hebrew/Biblical), and is a fascinating and well-written read.

So if anyone objects to Transsexuality or Intersex conditions actually existing, rejecting the UnGodly works of Scientific Secular Humanism... ask them why they're not campaigning about the fraudulent wastes of money on spaceflight and weather forecasting, the whole rain-falling-from clouds bit, instead of the Waters Above being let in as the Good Book says.

Or maybe not. I'm afraid of what they might answer. 40% of those surveyed in the USA believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, after all. They may just decide to stop cherrypicking, and get rid of this whole "round Earth" theory.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Science Journalism

For my sins, one of the many minor post-graduate qualifications I've picked up is a Graduate Certificate (just a short course, not the full Graduate Diploma) in Science Communication.

So I found this article, The Line Between Science and Journalism is Getting Blurry….Again of professional, as well as personal, interest.
False measures of journal quality – like the infamous Impact Factor – were used to determine who gets a job and tenure and who falls out of the pipeline. The progress of science led inevitably to specialization and to the development of specialized jargon. Proliferation of expensive journals ensured that nobody but people in highest-level research institutions had access to the literature, so scientists started writing only for each other.

Scientific papers became dense, but also narrowed themselves to only “this is how the world works”. The “this is new” became left out as the audience already knew this, and it became obvious that a paper would not be published if it did not produce something new, almost by definition.
So, at the close of the 20th century, we had a situation in which journalism and science, for the first time in history, completely separated from each other. Journalism covered what’s new without providing the explanation and context for new readers just joining the topic. Science covered only explanation and only to one’s peers.

In order to bridge that gap, a whole new profession needed to arise. As scientists understood the last step of the scientific method – communication – to mean only ‘communication to colleagues’, and as regular press was too scared to put truth-values on any statements of fact, the solution was the invention of the science journalist – someone who can read what scientists write and explain that to the lay audience. With mixed success. Science is hard. It takes years to learn enough to be able to report it well. Only a few science journalists gathered that much expertise over the years of writing (and making mistakes on the way).

So, many science journalists fell back on reporting science as news, leaving the explanation out. Their editors helped in that by severely restricting the space – and good science coverage requires ample space.

A good science story should explain what is known by now (science), what the new study brings that is new (news) and why does that matter to you (phatic discourse). The lack of space usually led to omission of context (science), shortening of what is new (news) and thus leaving only the emotional story intact. Thus, the audience did not learn much, Certainly not enough to be able to evaluate next day’s and next week’s news.

This format also led to the choice of stories. It is easy to report in this way if the news is relevant to the audience anyway, e.g., concerning health (the “relevant” stories). It is also easy to report on misconduct of scientists (the “fishy” stories) – which is not strictly science reporting. But it was hard to report on science that is interesting for its own sake (the “cool” stories).

What did the audience get out of this? Scientists are always up to some mischief. And every week they change the story as to what is good or bad for my health. And it is not very fun, entertaining and exciting. No surprise that science as endeavour slowly started losing trust with the (American) population, and that it was easy for groups with financial, political or religious interests to push anti-science rhetoric on topics from hazards of smoking to stem-cell research to evolution to climate change.

At the end of the 20th century, thus, we had a situation in which journalism and science were completely separate endeavors, and the bridge between them – science journalism – was unfortunately operating under the rules of journalism and not science, messing up the popular trust in both.
Enter the Blogger..... but you should Read The Whole Thing.

There are a number of lessons, ones I've tried to follow almost instinctively, out of intuition rather than as the result of conscious choice.
If you don’t link to your sources, including to scientific papers, you lose trust. If you quote out of context without providing that context, you lose trust. If you hide who you are and where you are coming from – that is cagey and breeds mistrust. Transparency is the new objectivity.

And transparency is necessarily personal, thus often phatic. It shows who you are as a person, your background, your intentions, your mood, your alliances, your social status.

There are many reasons sciencebloggers are more trusted than journalists covering science.

First, they have the scientific expertise that journalists lack – they really know what they are talking about on the topic of their expertise and the audience understands this.

Second, they link out to more, more diverse and more reliable sources.

Third, being digital natives, they are not familiar with the concept of word-limits. They start writing, they explain it as it needs to be explained and when they are done explaining they end the post. Whatever length it takes to give the subject what it’s due.

Finally, not being trained by j-schools, they never learned not to let their personality shine through their writing. So they gain trust by connecting to their readers – the phatic component of communication.

Much of our communication, both offline and online, is phatic. But that is necessary for building trust.
I'd add one more: if you make a mistake - as you will - don't hide it. Use strikethrough to leave the error visible, and put the correction below.

It's more important that your readers have an accurate measure of your reliability as an author, than to uncritically trust you because you hide your mistakes. Whether trusted or not, whether trustworthy or not, you can at least be honest. Transparent. Even if honestly wrong.

So I guess I must be a Science Journalist. Who knew?

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Pork, Politics and Space Programs

Or : how to waste money without really trying.

From the Orlando Sentinel
Thanks to congressional inaction, NASA must continue to fund its defunct Ares I rocket program until March — a requirement that will cost the agency nearly $500 million at a time when NASA is struggling with the expensive task of replacing the space shuttle.
What's more, constraints on NASA spending resulting from congressional budget gridlock will delay the scheduled start this year of a program to modernize aging facilities at Kennedy Space Center to transform it into a "21st-century spaceport." It's now not clear when the program will begin.

The odd scenario, in which NASA is throwing money at a canceled rocket program but can't fund a modernization program, is because of several twists in the legislative process that started a year ago and came to a head this month.

At the root of the problem is a 70-word sentence inserted into the 2010 budget — by lawmakers seeking to protect Ares I jobs in their home states — that bars NASA from shutting down the program until Congress passed a new budget a year later.

That should have happened before the Oct. 1 start of the federal fiscal year.

But Congress never passed a 2011 budget and instead voted this month to extend the 2010 budget until March — so NASA still must abide by the 2010 language.
According to NASA, the agency has been spending an average of $95 million a month on Ares I. At that rate, it will spend about $475 million from Oct. 1 to March 4 — the period covered by the current budget extension.

The language that keeps Constellation going was inserted into the 2010 budget last year by U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican who sought to protect the program and Ares jobs at Marshall Space Flight Center in his home state.
But whatever NASA wants to do, it will have less money than expected.

A budget extension at the 2010 rate of $18.7 billion means the agency will lose about $300 million in extra spending proposed by the White House — and possibly more if Congress cuts the budget further in March.

NASA Chief Financial Office Elizabeth Robinson said at a Senate hearing this month that NASA would deal with cuts by taking money from the effort to modernize Kennedy Space Center.
The one thing that would be required no matter what they decide to do in future.

The US still has the most advanced space technology in the world. But while the only political goal is to spread the pork, rather than actually send anything into space, the engineers and scientists are hamstrung. I imagine that morale must be pretty close to rock-bottom by now in most places. The ones where they know what they're doing is scheduled to be cancelled soon.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Jumping Through Hoops

A little window into my world.

Transition - the process of changing one's social role from one sex to the other - is something that the medical profession only helps with conditionally. Contrary to popular belief, it's not something just anyone is allowed to do.

Note the word "allowed".

Someone can get plastic surgery to enlarge or reduce breast size just by paying for it. Someone can get a hysterectomy on demand, or even have testes removed. But to get legal access to hormones, and later, surgery, that's a different matter. The medical profession insists on having a "gatekeeper" role (for the patient's own good of course), treating them as being incompetent to make their own decisions.

The situation is self-contradictory; on one hand, any psychiatric illness that would affect the patient's competence to make their own decisions is an immediate disqualifier. That's the first thing that's checked. So they have to be competent, or they can't proceed. But then they're treated as if they're not.

When the "gatekeeper" is reasonable, rational, and competent themselves, this is no big deal. But not all are. Some insist on unreasonable conditions, and unless the patient acts in accordance with their stereotyped beliefs, they will withhold treatment, refuse it.

This has led many feminists to label trans women as fakes, as men who denigrate women by acting some Doris-Day stereotypical role, presumably for some kind of sexual thrill. They don't know, or don't care, that this act is just one more humiliating indignity forced upon trans women in order to be authorised necessary medical treatment.

This was almost universal in the past. But it still happens. Here's an article detailing one patient's experience, not in the 50s, but in 2009.
In early 2009 I was finally given my assessment for suitability to go on the waiting list for sex reassignment surgery. Yes, that’s right, I would be assessed as to whether or not I was suitable to wait in line for further assessment.
I wear black. I like wearing black. I was told that women do not wear black....The woman doing the assessment was wearing black. Nothing but black. She told me that women wear bright colours. Pink was the only colour she could name.

The psychologist actually assumed I had short hair – either she was blind, or stupid – and said that women have long hair. On having it pointed out to her that I have long hair, and was wearing it tied back due to the wind, she said that women never wear their hair like that. She certainly didn’t, since her hair was about an inch long...

I was wearing a skirt. It’s hard to miss this on anyone, more so when someone is sitting cross-legged. She assumed I was wearing trousers. In her strange view of the world, women never wear trousers: they only wear skirts – and not long skirts, not even when it’s cold out. They wear short skirts. Knee length is still a long skirt. Mid-thigh is apparently the universal dress code for women. Unless they wear dresses, of course. No woman ever wears trousers. I’m sure the astute reader will see where this is going… Yes, she was wearing trousers.

The ever more ridiculous and outdated stereotypes continued: Women all wear make-up. But not subtle make-up. They trowel it on, so that it is clearly visible. It must be noticeable, or they’re not wearing make-up. No, she wasn’t wearing make-up either. I personally don’t. I’m very poor and could not afford any make-up if I wanted to wear it. Since I was raised by parents who were both feminist enough to think that make-up is something that women are not required or expected to do, I certainly don’t feel any pressure to bother. But the notion that maybe it’s sexist to require women to wear make-up was flatly disavowed by the psychologist. She said that all women wear the stuff, all the time. Except her, of course.

Then there was my lack of high heels. You see, all women wear high heels (except for certain psychologists)....I was told I should wear high heels. Even though I often cannot find any that actually fit.

On hearing that I’m attracted exclusively to women (there was a flat demand to know my sexual orientation) she said that only men are attracted to women. I asked her if she had not heard the term lesbian. She repeated what she said, so I think the answer was “no”. I guess lesbians are just too cutting edge.
I had very little of this. Mostly because I was in the hands of a competent medical team, but also because I didn't quite fit the usual Transsexual situation. Had I been confronted with these kinds of demands, I would have sought another psych, because I'd have no confidence in the professional competence of anyone who behaved like that. And if there'd been none available, I would have proceeded anyway, via less formal means if available, otherwise by playing the sub in their little sublimated BDSM game if need be. "Single minded" doesn't really cover it, "implacably determined" does.

It was pointed out to me by the psychs that there were options now I hadn't considered before. That I could wear makeup if I wanted to. Or heels, or frills, or whatever. But... that's not really me, and never was. Maybe it should be, a bit. Having 47 years of hiding, of being deathly afraid that someone would find out my Dark Secret, that's left me with some psychological hangups in this area. But nothing major, and nothing I can't fix myself, in time. I enjoy wearing ear-rings, having long nails, and have discovered the joys of a little Chanel No 5. If my body looked more attractive, maybe I'd do more... but it doesn't. The point is, that's not exactly a dominating concern in my life, I'm more involved in writing up my PhD thesis and preparing the courses I'll be teaching next year. Bringing up my son is more important still.

I wasn't called on to play the performing seal, to jump through hoops on command. If I had to, if there was no other alternative, I would have. You can only be humiliated by someone if you give them permission though, and I would have withheld that.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

TS, IS, and the US Military

Army Regulation 40–501 lays out the Standards of Medical Fitness required for service in the US Army.

All references such as (302) are to diagnostic codes in the World Health Organisation's ICD-9 manual from 1977, superseded in 1992 by the ICD-10.

Homosexuality is listed in the ICD-9 under code 302.0 as a mental illness, a "psychosexual condition".

2–27. Learning, psychiatric and behavioral disorders

n. Current or history of psychosexual conditions (302), including, but not limited to transsexualism, exhibitionism,
transvestism, voyeurism, and other paraphilias, do not meet the standard
3–35. Personality, psychosexual conditions, transsexual, gender identity, exhibitionism, transvestism, voyeurism, other paraphilias, or factitious disorders; disorders of impulse control not elsewhere classified

a. A history of, or current manifestations of, personality disorders, disorders of impulse control not elsewhere classified, transvestism, voyeurism, other paraphilias, or factitious disorders, psychosexual conditions, transsexual, gender identity disorder to include major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia such as change of sex or a current attempt to change sex, hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis or dysfunctional residuals from surgical correction of these conditions render an individual administratively unfit.

b. These conditions render an individual administratively unfit rather than unfit because of physical illness or medical disability. These conditions will be dealt with through administrative channels, including AR 135–175, AR 135–178, AR 635–200, or AR 600–8–24

AR 135–175 Separation of Officers
AR 135–178 Enlisted Administrative Separations
AR 635–200 Active Duty Enlisted Administrative Separations
AR 600–8–24 Officer Transfers and Discharges

2–14. Genitalia

a. Female genitalia.

(5) History of major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia such as change of sex (P64.5), hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis (752.7), or dysfunctional residuals from surgical correction of these conditions does not meet the standard.

(9) Uterus, congenital absence of (752.3), or enlargement due to any cause (621.2) does not meet the standard.

b. Male genitalia

(1) Current absence of one or both testicles, either congenital (752.89) or undescended (752.51) does not meet the standard.

(5) History of penis amputation (878.0) does not meet the standard.

d. History of major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia, such as a change of sex (P64.5), hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis (752.7) or dysfunctional residuals from surgical correction of these conditions does not meet the standard.

I am not a lawyer, and I think it would take one, a good one, to deal with this tangled mess.

The problem is in the various subsidiary regulations about "Administrative Discharge". AR 635–200 is the only one that's clear; there, Transsexuality is called out specifically, as a category like sea-sickness that may be cause for separation. But AR 135–175 requires that the medical condition be proven to interfere with effectiveness, or that it be classified as a "personality disorder". It's difficult to see how an Intersex condition could be so classified, though in the ICD-9 anyway, transsexuality is so defined. The other two deal with personality disorders, or medical issues that would require medical, not administrative, discharges, or that would preclude induction if found during the early part of service. At least, that's from a first reading.

And of course, homosexuality is in all those regulations too, as a medical condition requiring discharge. This will have to be changed as part of the DADT repeal process.

And that leads to the question - why not deal with IS and TS issues too at the same time? Update the regulations so they're at least current with the state of medical knowledge in 1992, as opposed to 1977? I suspect the reason why the ICD-9 has persisted is simply because that was the last version that had homosexuality listed as a mental disease, and without that justification, something like DADT was needed to keep the Gays out - or at least closeted.

As for IS - exactly what military duties require the presence of a uterus, or two testes (one will not do) and a penis? The Spanish Army was faced with a similar issue not that long ago. A great deal of fun was poked at the Spaniards by many Americans, not realising that their Army had exactly the same bizarre requirements.

The ICD-11 is due out in 2015. The current controversy about the US DSM-V will certainly have some effect on the content. In the meantime, we have regulations based on 40 year old medical standards, words such as "hermaphrodite" within them whose medical definition has changed, and an enormous mess. All due to successful attempts to inject religious and political ideology and the "ick" factor into what should be a scientific issue.

Yes, there are some Intersex conditions that should be excluded on the same grounds as other medical issues. The requirement for constant hormonal maintenance for example. Yet post-menopausal women are allowed to serve. Let's have a level playing field, with the same kind of latitude shown to IS and TS people as is shown to others with similar medical issues. No more, no less. Only medical conditions that actually cause significant decrease of military efficiency should be excluded, those with a mild, treatable level or no level at all should be allowed.

Lest I be accused of wanting to compromise military effectiveness in the name of political correctness, consider cases like this one.
Frederick Melvin Franks, Jr. is a retired General of the United States Army. He is considered a military visionary and a distinguished combat commander, famous for having commanded the Gulf War coalition VII Corps in the highly successful "Left Hook" maneuver against fourteen Iraqi divisions, a number of whom were Iraqi Republican Guard, defeating or forcing the retreat of each with fewer than 100 American casualties lost to enemy action, a feat unmatched in modern warfare.
While fighting in Cambodia he was severely wounded, and after a series of unsuccessful surgeries, lost his left leg, which was amputated below the knee. Franks fought to remain in a combat unit, something not normally granted amputees, and was eventually permitted to remain in combat arms.
How many body bags would have been filled had he been thrown out of the military for not meeting arbitrary medical requirements?

How much talent has already been wasted?
Preece, who was 51 at the time, worked then — as she does now — for the Library of Congress, where she helps make hiring decisions for the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the U.S. Congress's analysis agency. She had decided to recommend an ex–Special Forces colonel named David Schroer to be CRS's terrorism specialist. Schroer was a dream candidate, a guy out of a Tom Clancy novel: he had jumped from airplanes, undergone grueling combat training in extreme heat and cold, commanded hundreds of soldiers, helped run Haiti during the U.S. intervention in the '90s — and since 9/11, he had been intimately involved in secret counterterrorism planning at the highest levels of the Pentagon. He had been selected to organize and run a new, classified antiterrorism organization, and in that position he had routinely briefed Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He had also briefed Vice President Dick Cheney more than once. Schroer had been an action hero, but he also had the contacts and intellectual dexterity to make him an ideal congressional analyst.

But now, about three weeks before Schroer was to begin work at CRS, he told Preece over a Chinese lunch that he had a personal matter to reveal: after years of cross-dressing in private, he was preparing to start living full time as a woman. He would also probably have sex-reassignment surgery. And so he planned to start at CRS as Diane Jacqueline Schroer, not David John Schroer.
At a time when the US Army is granting wavers for gang-members, racists and others of questionable character because not enough recruits are coming in, I think these issues should be re-thought. Just as they were in Australia, where we too could no longer afford the luxury of wasting such precious human resources just because of irrational distaste.

I repeat - exactly what military duties require the presence of a uterus, or two testes (one will not do) and a penis?

Friday, 24 December 2010

A conclusion I came to at age 4

Any excuse will do for a time of peace, goodwill, and giving presents to children. It is it's own justification, nothing else is needed. Candles that keep mystically burning, stars that travel in the sky, or jolly fat men riding aeriel sleighs, those are strictly optional embellishments.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Nature vs Nurture, Instinct vs Socialisation

From Eureka Science Alert :
Researchers have reported some of the first evidence that chimpanzee youngsters in the wild may tend to play differently depending on their sex, just as human children around the world do. Although both young male and female chimpanzees play with sticks, females do so more often, and they occasionally treat them like mother chimpanzees caring for their infants, according to a study in the December 21st issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication.

The findings suggest that the consistently greater tendency, across all cultures, for girls to play more with dolls than boys do is not just a result of sex-stereotyped socialization, the researchers say, but rather comes partly from "biological predilections."

"This is the first evidence of an animal species in the wild in which object play differs between males and females," said Richard Wrangham of Harvard University.

Earlier studies of captive monkeys had also suggested a biological influence on toy choice. When juvenile monkeys are offered sex-stereotyped human toys, females gravitate toward dolls, whereas males are more apt to play with "boys' toys" such as trucks.

The new observations come from 14 years of observation of the Kanyawara chimpanzee community in Kibale National Park, Uganda.
Chimps are a very social group. I consider them to be intelligent creatures: people, basically. Certainly there are many similarities when in the plains rather than the forests between their culture and society and some of the tribes in New Guinea. That's not to say that the New Guinea tribes are sub-human; it's to say that chimps are people too, as much people as I am.

Apart from the Sentinelli, they are as close as we can get to what much of human society must have been like for the majority of our low-tech history. They're not my brothers and sisters: but they are distant and slightly dim cousins.

So in view of this similarity I can't say for certain that this behaviour isn't at least affected by socialisation. I'm pretty sure it's not, that it's instinctive. But I consider that the similar behaviour exhibited by Vervet monkeys is more convincing. And that the fact that the same pattern is shown by a number of related species, sometimes very distantly related, is more convincing still. It's part of who we are, not something we're taught or (if you'll pardon the expression) ape in imitation of our peers.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Two Papers on Legal Issues for TS and IS people

From the sublime to the ridiculous.

First, Employment Discrimination and the Transsexual(1996) by JoAnna McNamara which I first mentioned 18 months ago. The link died, but I have a new one. It's still the definitive text on the legal aspects of the problem.

Then there's a product of that Bastion of Christendom, Liberty University. Transsexualism and the Binary Divide: Determining Sex Using Objective Criteria(2006) by Mathew Staver.

It's a good resource for a summary of lots of legal cases where inhumanity, lack of logic, and complete ignorance of biology has led to some very perverse results. Those that fit the author's thesis are described in detail. Those that do not might get a passing reference in a footnote.

The author's thesis?
This article deals with the legal status of postoperative transsexuals in terms of marriage and sex-based classi cations. Until recently, sex has been assumed to be binary, i.e., male and female. Whether sex is immutable or transitory, objective or subjective, has now become an international concern. This article addresses every case in the world every decided on this issue. The resolution is centrally important to the battle over marriage and sex-based classi cations.
The thesis of this article is that sex is an immutable characteristic at the time of birth and must be determined by objective criteria.
Sex must be determined by objective factors such as biology and physiology.
A person's sex is determined by chromosomes. When there is harmony between biology and physiology, surgery cannot alter a person's sex merely because that person desires a di fferent gender. If sex is primarily a state of mind and based on subjective mental desires, equal protection for sex-based classi cations becomes meaningless. To maintain any stability and meaning to sex-based classi cation, sex must (and can) be determined by objective factors.

Oh gosh, where to begin. So much FAIL....

OK, first off, there is a bald statement :
However, a clinical definition of intersex only includes conditions in which the phenotype, or the visible characteristics, are not classifiable as either male or female (for example, the presence of both male and female genitalia), or chromosomal sex (e.g., XX or XY) is not consistent with phenotypic sex.(156) There is nothing in the definition of intersex that refers to psychology. On the other hand, transsexuals are born with chromosomal and phenotypic consistency.

156. See Leonard Sax, How Common is Intersex? A Response to Anne Fausto-Sterling, 39 J. OF SEX RESEARCH 174, 176 (2002). The term “intersex” is usually reserved for individuals of intermediate sexual differentiation, who are most often sterile. See William S. Klug, Michael R. Cummings, 3d ed. ESSENTIALS OF GENETICS 155-70 (Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle Back River, N.J. 1999).
Except that Sax excludes those whose chromosomal sex is not consistent with phenotypical sex, as long as the phentypical sex looks mostly male or mostly female. Thus he doesn't consider 47XXY an Intersex condition. The reference used to justify the statement contradicts it.

Sax's fanatically exclusive definition, one only he adheres to, is then used to say that few Intersexed people exist. And such things as this:
PATIENTS: A 46,XY mother who developed as a normal woman underwent spontaneous puberty, reached menarche, menstruated regularly, experienced two unassisted pregnancies, and gave birth to a 46,XY daughter with complete gonadal dysgenesis. -- J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008 Jan;93(1):182-9
disappear by sleight-of-hand.

It's essential to do this, in order for chromosomes to be considered the definitive indicator of sex. Otherwise, the absurdity of a mother of three being "really male" would be apparent. Those with mixed cell lines such as 47XXY/46XX or 46XY/45X aren't mentioned at all.

Now let's look at the definition of Transsexuality:
transsexuals are born with chromosomal and phenotypic consistency
That is, in fact, the definition of Transsexuality in the ICD-10. No Intersex, chromosomal or otherwise, condition can exist for this diagnosis. Furthermore, the US DSM-IV-TR definition of "Gender Identity Disorder" - because Transsexuality is not defined in it - also precludes any Intersex condition.

One problem: by this definition, we have no evidence that "transsexuals" exist. Because all those diagnosed as Transsexual that have ever been tested have inconsistent phenotypes. In theory, for the exclusions to be meaningful, everyone presenting with an apparent diagnosis of GID should be given hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of diagnostic tests, genetic, MRI, ultrasound... in fact, almost none are. Those that have been given neuro-anatomical testing in certain areas have all shown anomalies. Unfortunately, the best tests require autopsy, so have limited practicability.

Male–to–female transsexuals have female neuron numbers in a limbic nucleus. Kruiver et al J Clin Endocrinol Metab (2000) 85:2034–2041
The present findings of somatostatin neuronal sex differences in the BSTc and its sex reversal in the transsexual brain clearly support the paradigm that in transsexuals sexual differentiation of the brain and genitals may go into opposite directions and point to a neurobiological basis of gender identity disorder.

White matter microstructure in female to male transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment. A diffusion tensor imaging study. - Rametti et al, J Psychiatr Res. 2010 Jun 8.
CONCLUSIONS: Our results show that the white matter microstructure pattern in untreated FtM transsexuals is closer to the pattern of subjects who share their gender identity (males) than those who share their biological sex (females). Our results provide evidence for an inherent difference in the brain structure of FtM transsexuals.

Now let's look at the "Immutability" of chromosomes.

Bone marrow-derived cells from male donors can compose endometrial glands in female transplant recipients by Ikoma et al in Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Dec;201(6):608.e1-8 :
RESULTS: All recipients had donor-derived Y chromosome-positive endometrial cells, accounting for 0.6-8.4% of glandular epithelial cells and 8.2-9.8% of stromal cells. Most of the endometrial glands were chimeric, consisting of both donor-derived and recipient cells.

CONCLUSION: Donor-derived cells are capable of composing endometrium in recipients, even those of the opposite sex.

So "transsexuals" - as the author defines them - don't exist, or at least, the definition does not apply to any of the legal cases mentioned. And chromosomes are not immutable (especially in the case of people with multiple cell-lines, where the proportion of each may change over the patient's lifetime).

Finally, it appears this "chromosomal" definition only applies to Transsexuals; and that those who are Intersexed have their sex undefined. A definition that is arbitrarily, even subjectively, tailored to one particular group (on the grounds of a-priori religious belief), but is not generally applicable, contradicts the whole argument about desirability of a universal and objective test.

This is a deeply dishonest paper. It's factually wrong in all of the bases of its argument, and uses "sleight of hand" to conceal unpleasant truths even when they're acknowledged. There is no attempt to differentiate the arbitrary definitions adopted in law from objective definitions. Sex determined at birth, why? Because some judge said so. There's no argument that this reflects reality.

Despite that, I think that in a few boundary cases, sex really is determined at birth, In fact, it's determined before then, in the neurological circuitry laid down by hormonal mix, as modulated by genetics - the former being dominant. But chromosomes? As well to use height, as "men are taller than women", or weight at birth, because "boy babies are bigger".

Whatever is used, make it consistent, so it applies universally. If absurdity results, junk it.

You know what the best practical test is? One that doesn't involve the complete arsenal of medical imaging, and vast costs?

After excluding florid psychosis - you ask the patient what sex they are. That appears to be 98% reliable, rather better than almost any diagnostic test in medicine. It's an objective metric, not dependant on the tester's subjectivity.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

When Fire Exits Go Up-Market

A sign I saw at the hotel I was staying at in Portland, Oregon.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Want to send me a Christmas Present? This Is H.O.W.

This Is H.O.W.

I know the Executive Director, who's worked tirelessly with me over the years, fighting the good fight against ignorance and bigotry in places high and low. Comments on websites, in Newspapers, and not just with words, but deeds.

There are some people I don't know who need help. If you wish to give me a Christmas present - then the best one you could possibly give me is to send a few dollars their way. I can't promise a good outcome in all cases, or in any case. I do know that I have to try, and you have my guarantee that every single cent will be spent on those who need it, not on overheads or salaries.

No matter what your religious beliefs - whether this is being done in the Christmas Spirit, or to "Make Merit" and earn good Karma, or just because in an uncaring amoral world we have to manufacture a purpose of love and charity - please give a little.

The only thing I can promise in return is this. That the next time you look in the mirror, you'll be able to say that, although you may have your flaws, sometimes you Done Good. Try it, and see how it feels. That's my gift to you, you see.

Friday, 17 December 2010

America's Banks are in Trouble - as is the Bank of America

I've blogged about the US Mortgage Debacle before. Now the first chickens are coming home to roost - with the Bank of America.
From DailyFinance
Testimony in a New Jersey foreclosure case decided last week may spell big trouble for Bank of America (BAC). If what one bank employee said on the stand proves to be accurate, paperwork problems it acquired when it purchased the failing mortgage provider Countrywide in 2008 could leave BofA on the hook for billions of dollars.

As first reported by Kate Berry for American Banker, Linda DiMartini, a supervisor and operational team leader for the Litigation Management Department of BAC Home Loans Servicing, testified in the foreclosure case of John T. Kemp that it was "customary for Countrywide to maintain possession of the original note and related documents."

If that's true, then Bank of America may discover that it has millions of loans on its books that it thought it had transferred to trusts that issued mortgage backed securities, because 96% of Countrywide loans were ostensibly securitized. As the Congressional Oversight Panel explained, that outcome alone could cause massive damage to a bank's balance sheet. And as bad as that would be, it isn't the only problem that could result from Countrywide hanging on to the notes.

If the mortgage-backed securities aren't in fact "mortgage-backed," investors who bought them could be able to force BofA to buy the securities back. A significant number of buybacks could on its own destroy BofA's balance sheet. Nor could BofA stave off either outcome retroactively by delivering those notes today. First, the contracts that created the trusts would typically forbid transferring the loans into the trusts now. Second, even if somehow that could happen, such a transfer would destroy the special tax status the mortgage backed securities enjoy and give the investors a different reason to put back the securities or sue over them.
This is what is known as "being in deep doo-doo". And the BAC is not the only major financial institition in this situation.

The US economy is starting to stage a comeback; but my bet is that it's the eye of the storm, with more to come soon.

The traditional lifeboat for assets has been Gold. The Filthy Rich have tons of the stuff sitting in bank vaults, "just in case".

Or so they think... because some of the world's banks have been playing a little fast and loose with more than just mortgages....

From NZ Gold Survival Guide :
First Jim Rickards reported that a Swiss bank refused to deliver roughly $40 million of gold bullion to a wealthy client for 30 days, and only finally physically delivered his gold when the client brought in his lawyers and threatened to take his story to Reuters and other syndicated financial news networks.

Later in the week, James Turk reported that he is aware of another individual who has been trying to take physical possession of approximately $550,000 of silver for two months now from a Swiss bank with zero luck. Turk further elaborated that the bank has been trying to pressure the client into accepting the cash equivalent market value of the silver, rather than deliver the physical silver to the client.

In both of these cases, I presume that neither of these Swiss banks ever held allocated gold and silver for their clients … or, if they did, had then leased out the gold/silver or sold the same gold/silver to multiple clients, and thus were forced to stonewall their clients until they could secure the physical metal. Why else would a bank take 30 days to deliver something that was supposed to be sitting in a vault in an allocated account?

Of course, none of this is really shocking, as the two above cases merely mirror the circumstances of the 2005 class-action lawsuit against Morgan Stanley (MS) in which it told its clients it was selling them silver in allocated accounts and storing it in its vaults. However, when one of their clients, Selwyn Silberblatt, demanded physical delivery, Morgan Stanley failed to deliver, prompting the class-action lawsuit that MS eventually settled for $4.4 million.

Time after time, bankers have been caught committing likely fraud regarding the sales of gold and silver. This likely fraud extends to more than physical sales. In the futures markets, bankers have been discovered to be selling 100 ounces of paper gold for every one ounce of physical gold that actually exists in the market. With PM ETFs, it is highly likely that multiple claims exist on whatever physical gold and silver back the GLD and SLV … if any physical gold and silver even back them at all.
Luckily, we don't have that problem. There's something to be said for owning the roof over your head (but little else), no debts, and a meagre but reliable income, supplemented by the occasional windfall.

"Financial Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose". Plus No Debts, and a frugal lifestyle tailored to a meagre income.

I'll be teaching two courses at the ANU next year. A part-time associate lectureship is just my style when I'm completing my PhD, so that counts as a "windfall". My partner's retired, and she's actually getting more in her fully-indexed government-guaranteed pension than she did while she was working. God knows she'd earnt it, being in the Public Service can corrode the soul, and is something I've always managed to avoid.

So we're about as well prepared as we can be if things start turning to custard.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Vaginal Appearance and Construction

So today I'm going to talk about Lady Bits. With as much delicacy as I can, but because this is the kind of thing every woman should know. Every woman, including standard factory models.

None of us can be certain we won't get some cancer, requiring radiotherapy or radical surgery. And all of us should be warned about pursuing some ideal, via cosmetic surgery, because we don't "look normal".

Ok, some of us don't, but unless you're Transsexual or Intersexed, you almost certainly do. "Normal" covers a wide range.

So what if reconstruction is necessary, due to a congenital problem, accident, or cancer treatment? Genital Reconstruction Surgery is one of the more difficult surgical procedures. Complications are common. Female genitalia is easier to construct than male, but that doesn't mean it's easy.

From The pitfalls of vaginal construction Davies, M. C., Creighton, S. M. and Woodhouse, C. R. BJU International (2005), 95: 1293–1298.
Fourteen patients had complex congenital anomalies of the lower genital tract and 11 of these had associated anomalies of the urinary and gastrointestinal system; four were XY females. The 15 patients had had 31 vaginal procedures, including ileal vaginoplasty, mobilization of perineal skin flaps and split-skin grafting. Three patients required osteotomies to increase pelvic outlet diameter. The commonest complications were stenosis (six patients) and fistula formation (four). Eight patients are now sexually active; the remaining seven have not attempted sexual intercourse.
Complications are common and can be major; most patients require many repeat operations to achieve a patent vagina. Unfortunately at present, this is the only option for this group of young women to achieve a functional vagina. Patients with complex congenital anomalies of the reproductive and genital tracts are increasingly surviving into adulthood, and the numbers of these patients is likely to increase in the future.

I think they could learn from the best specialist surgeons, such as Brassard and Suporn. Suporn has performed perhaps 2,000 of these procedures - without a single case of fistula, and usually using a male or somewhat male initial configuration.

One thing - female genitalia varies. From Female genital appearance: ‘normality’ unfolds. Lloyd, J., Crouch, N. S., Minto, C. L., Liao, L.-M. and Creighton, S. M. (2005), BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology, 112: 643–646
Population Fifty premenopausal women having gynaecological procedures not involving the external genitalia under general anaesthetic.

Methods A cross sectional study using digital photography and measurements of the external genitalia.

Main outcome measures Clitoral size, labial length and width, colour and rugosity, vaginal length, distance from clitoris to urethral orifice, distance from posterior fourchette to anterior anal margin.

Results A wide range of values were noted for each measurement. There was no statistically significant association with age, parity, ethnicity, hormonal use or history of sexual activity.

Conclusion Women vary widely in genital dimensions. This information should be made available to women when considering surgical procedures on the genitals, decisions for which must be carefully considered between surgeon and woman.
The Numbers:
Clitoral length (mm)5–35
Clitoral glans width (mm)3–10
Clitoris to urethra (mm)16–45
Labia majora length (cm)7.0–12.0
Labia minora length (mm)20–100
Labia minora width (mm)7–50
Perineum length (mm15–55
Vaginal length (cm)6.5–12.5
Tanner stage (n)IV 4
V 46
Colour of genital area compared with surrounding skin (n)Same 9
Darker 41
Rugosity of labia (n)Smooth 14
Moderate 34
Marked 2

On a personal note.... I'm Tanner Stage III. But otherwise I could have been one of the study group. I'm a scientist, and no-one who's been through what I have can retain any shreds of maidenly modesty. But there are limits, even for me. My OB/Gyn has need to know more, but no-one else.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

It's not the Crime, it's the Cover-Up

Why I don't like Wikileaks.

The hypocrisy. Privacy is for them, not others.

And this is why I really, really, REALLY don't like the extra-judicial persecution of their founder (who I find an unpleasant man - but that's beside the point).

Naomi Wolf's article on Huffpo :
How do I know that Interpol, Britain and Sweden's treatment of Julian Assange is a form of theater? Because I know what happens in rape accusations against men that don't involve the embarrassing of powerful governments.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is in solitary confinement in Wandsworth prison in advance of questioning on state charges of sexual molestation. Lots of people have opinions about the charges. But I increasingly believe that only those of us who have spent years working with rape and sexual assault survivors worldwide, and know the standard legal response to sex crime accusations, fully understand what a travesty this situation is against those who have to live through how sex crime charges are ordinarily handled -- and what a deep, even nauseating insult this situation is to survivors of rape and sexual assault worldwide.

Here is what I mean: men are pretty much never treated the way Assange is being treated in the face of sex crime charges.

I started working as a counselor in a UK center for victims of sexual assault in my mid-twenties. I also worked as a counselor in a battered women's shelter in the US, where sexual violence was often part of the pattern of abuse. I have since spent two decades traveling the world reporting on and interviewing survivors of sexual assault, and their advocates, in countries as diverse as Sierra Leone and Morocco, Norway and Holland, Israel and Jordan and the Occupied Territories, Bosnia and Croatia, Britain, Ireland and the united States.
In the Western countries such as Britain and Sweden, who are uniting to hold Assange without bail, if you actually interviewed women working in rape crisis centers, you will hear this: it is desperately hard to get a conviction for a sex crime, or even a serious hearing. Workers in rape crisis centers in the UK and Sweden will tell you that they have deep backlogs of women raped for years by fathers or stepfathers -- who can't get justice. Women raped by groups of young men who have been drinking, and thrown out of the backs of cars, or abandoned after a gang-rape in an alley -- who can't get justice. Women raped by acquaintances who can't get a serious hearing.
In other words: Never in twenty-three years of reporting on and supporting victims of sexual assault around the world have I ever heard of a case of a man sought by two nations, and held in solitary confinement without bail in advance of being questioned -- for any alleged rape, even the most brutal or easily proven. In terms of a case involving the kinds of ambiguities and complexities of the alleged victims' complaints -- sex that began consensually that allegedly became non-consensual when dispute arose around a condom -- please find me, anywhere in the world, another man in prison today without bail on charges of anything comparable.
One of the greatest threats to civil liberties is selective enforcement. A complex web of laws is woven, so that no-one can possibly escape breaking at least one. Everyone's a criminal.

Then you only actually enforce the laws against a select few. Those who you wish to target, using laws most people don't even know are on the books, because in all other cases, they are only applied with reason and common-sense.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Intel Software NetworkTV - Teach Parallel At SC10


It's 100MB long, so I won't embed it.

Gosh I need to lose weight.... WAHHH. On the other hand, I am 52. What a Proboscis though! Doubt if there's a plastic surgeon courageous enough to tackle a schnozz like that one. Especially since it was broken in 3 places as a child. And a facelift to get rid of the middle-aged jowls.... and liposuction, and a tummy-tuck, and...

I know, "Vanity, thy name is Woman". But it's true. Meh, it's me, unadorned, no makeup. Not much of an advertisement for young girls to get into InfoTech though.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Knew there had to be some explanation

From the Independant : Modern art was CIA 'weapon'
Until now there has been no first-hand evidence to prove that this connection was made, but for the first time a former case officer, Donald Jameson, has broken the silence. Yes, he says, the agency saw Abstract Expressionism as an opportunity, and yes, it ran with it.

"Regarding Abstract Expressionism, I'd love to be able to say that the CIA invented it just to see what happens in New York and downtown SoHo tomorrow!" he joked. "But I think that what we did really was to recognise the difference. It was recognised that Abstract Expression- ism was the kind of art that made Socialist Realism look even more stylised and more rigid and confined than it was. And that relationship was exploited in some of the exhibitions.

"In a way our understanding was helped because Moscow in those days was very vicious in its denunciation of any kind of non-conformity to its own very rigid patterns. And so one could quite adequately and accurately reason that anything they criticised that much and that heavy- handedly was worth support one way or another."

To pursue its underground interest in America's lefty avant-garde, the CIA had to be sure its patronage could not be discovered. "Matters of this sort could only have been done at two or three removes," Mr Jameson explained, "so that there wouldn't be any question of having to clear Jackson Pollock, for example, or do anything that would involve these people in the organisation. And it couldn't have been any closer, because most of them were people who had very little respect for the government, in particular, and certainly none for the CIA. If you had to use people who considered themselves one way or another to be closer to Moscow than to Washington, well, so much the better perhaps."
My opinion of art in general? It follows Sturgeon's Law (or more properly, Sturgeon's Revelation)

90% of everything is crud. As James Gunn, quoting the Great Man himself, said :
Ninety percent of science fiction is crud. But then ninety percent of everything is crud, and it's the ten percent that isn't crud that is important

Thursday, 9 December 2010

One Small Step

You may not have noticed it - it hasn't been publicised very much - but something quite extraordinary happened today.

From SpaceX:
Cape Canaveral, FL – Today, SpaceX became the first commercial company in history to re-enter a spacecraft from low-Earth orbit.
This marks the first time a commercial company has successfully recovered a spacecraft reentering from low-Earth orbit. It is a feat performed by only six nations or government agencies: the United States, Russia, China, Japan, India, and the European Space Agency.
SpaceKSC has an excellent list of news stories on this event.

Rand Simberg gives a good summary:
While the June launch was to demonstrate the ability of the Falcon 9 launcher, today's flight was to validate the design of the Dragon itself. The mission goals were to show its ability to maneuver in space; deploy a cluster of small satellites, called "cubesats"; orient itself for atmospheric entry; perform the deorbit burn; survive entry into the atmosphere at the designated g-levels (it has to eventually be capable of returning passengers from orbit); deploy parachutes; and hit the ocean at the specified speed to allow intact recovery.

All objectives were achieved...

This success clears the way for the next demonstration flight in the next few months, which will demonstrate the ability to perform a mission of longer duration, with the addition of solar panels (today's flight had batteries only), and to perform a rendezvous and match orbits with the ISS. Then there will be a follow-on demonstration to actually dock to the ISS, which will essentially certify the vehicle for cargo delivery and return, reducing the need to purchase such services from the Russians, with the retirement of the space shuttle next year.

The Falcon 9 cost $600 million to develop. To continue development of the Dragon spacecraft so it's man-rated, perhaps another $400 million.

There is another cost though. While NASA as a government agency is slave to the pork-barrel, private companies have to pay the devil his due.

From :

Between January 2009 and Nov. 22, the date of SpaceX PAC's most recent federal report, the group has raised more than $60,000.

And more than 20 federal-level political candidates have received campaign contributions from SpaceX PAC this election cycle through the second quarter of 2010.

Democrats dominate the list of the PAC's beneficiaries, with Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Reps. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) and Chet Edwards (D-Texas) receiving the most cash through the middle of this year. The SpaceX PAC also this cycle made four-figure contributions to the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Nevada State Democratic Party.
Small beer. US Politicians are cheap. But it's still an additional tax on doing business.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

References on Gender Identity in TS and IS people

I'm gathering together the various references I've mentioned on this blog (and occasionally elsewhere) to put together what I've referred to as "the puzzle".

It's a continuing work in progress, as new data is coming in all the time. I should also systematise it, perhaps by date, so I can just append or prepend new articles as they come in. There's a lot, and I've missed out quite a bit, so it will be continuously updated just to correct the omissions.

Along with the academic reference, there's the URL, and selected quotes from the papers in question, usually from the abstracts.

It's available as a separate page, on the left column. Transsexual and Intersex Gender Identity


Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A Little Known Menace

From the Australia Museum website - an article on Drop Bears


Drop Bears can be found in the densely forested regions of the Great Dividing Range in South-eastern Australia. However there are also some reports of them from South-east South Australia, Mount Lofty Ranges and Kangaroo Island.

Drop Bears hunt by ambushing ground dwelling animals from above, waiting up to as much as four hours to make a surprise kill. Once prey is within view, the Drop Bear will drop as much as eight metres to pounce on top of the unsuspecting victim. The initial impact often stuns the prey, allowing it to be bitten on the neck and quickly subdued.

If the prey is small enough Drop Bears will haul it back up the tree to feed without harassment from other predators.
So be a little careful if you see a shape up in the trees. It may just be a Koala of course. But if it's a little bigger, and orange-brown rather than grey... best keep your distance. The larger ones are 120kg, 130cm long, and 90 cm at the shoulder. Call it 250Lbs, the size of a leopard. They can take down a 2 metre Red Kangaroo larger than a human quite easily, the powerful teeth severing the spinal cord just below the head.

Interestingly, there are no records of Koalas being eaten by Drop Bears. It may be that the Koala's diet, consisting of nothing but eucalyptus leaves, may taint the meat so it is unpalatable to its larger carnivorous relative, Thylarctos plummetus

They are also entirely fictional which may also account for it.

Monday, 6 December 2010

A Change of Chromosomes

One argument often put to delegitimise trans people is that nothing changes their chromosomes.

Now one can argue that chromosomes aren't definitive; that both XX males and XY females exist. But the thing is... the argument that chromosomes can't be changed is just plain wrong. Chromosomes can be changed, and are changed, as the result of various medical therapies.

From Transplanted human bone marrow cells generate new brain cells by Crain BJ, Tran SD, Mezey E. in J Neurol Sci. 2005 Jun 15;233(1-2):121-3 :
Multiple studies have reported that adult cells of bone marrow origin can differentiate into muscle, skin, liver, lung, epithelial cells, and neurons. To determine whether such cells might produce neurons and other cells in the human brain, we examined paraffin sections from female patients who had received bone marrow transplants from male donors. Y-chromosomes were labeled using autoradiography and fluorescent in situ hybridization. Neurons and astrocytes were identified histologically and immunohistochemically in neocortex, hippocampus, striatum, and cerebellum. However, most labeled cells in both gray and white matter appeared to be glia. Others have suggested that such Y-labeling represents fusion between host and donor cells, rather than true transdifferentiation. The possibilities of fusion and microchimerism were therefore examined using buccal epithelial cells as a model system. The female patients in this study had received either bone marrow or stem cell (CD34+ enriched) transplants from their brothers. Double labeling for X- and Y-chromosomes showed that Y-labeled buccal cells could not be explained by fusion. Genotyping studies of one patient, her brother, and her son ruled out the possibility of microchimerism. Whether, and under what circumstances, some form of bone marrow transplantation might provide adequate number of cells capable of replacing lost brain cells or enhancing their function will require additional studies.
And then there's this : Bone marrow-derived cells from male donors can compose endometrial glands in female transplant recipients by Ikoma et al in Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Dec;201(6):608.e1-8 :
RESULTS: All recipients had donor-derived Y chromosome-positive endometrial cells, accounting for 0.6-8.4% of glandular epithelial cells and 8.2-9.8% of stromal cells. Most of the endometrial glands were chimeric, consisting of both donor-derived and recipient cells.

CONCLUSION: Donor-derived cells are capable of composing endometrium in recipients, even those of the opposite sex.
M.Italiano even gives several methods where something like this can be accomplished deliberately, rather than observed as a surprising side-effect.

Our lives are like theatres, our bodies like long-running plays. Every day, each performance is just slightly different. The cast will change over time. Cells are replaced. We're each of us, just slightly different people when we wake up in the morning than the person who went to bed. If not, growth would be impossible, learning and memory likewise.

Many people, I think, would consider this idea threatening to their identity. They see themselves as static portraits, rather than performance art.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Puzzle - an Overview as of 2009

Biological and Psychosocial Correlates of Adult Gender‐Variant Identities: a Review by J.F.Veale & D.E.Clarke, Personality and Individual Differences (2009) 48(4), 357-366
This article reviews research on biological and psychosocial factors relevant to the etiology of gender-variant identities. There is evidence for a genetic component of gender-variant identities through studies of twins and other within-family concordance and through studies of specific genes. Evidence that prenatal androgens play a role comes from studies that have examined finger length ratios (2D:4D), prevalence of polycystic ovary syndrome among female-to-male transsexuals, and individuals with intersex and related conditions who are more likely to have reassigned genders. There is also evidence that transsexuals have parts of their brain structure that is typical of the opposite birth-assigned gender. A greater likelihood of non-right-handedness suggests developmental instability may also contribute as a biological factor. There is a greater tendency for persons with gender-variant identities to report childhood abuse and a poor or absent relationship with parents. It is unclear if this is a cause or effect of a gender-variant identity. Parental encouragement of gender-variance is more common among individuals who later develop a gender-variant identity. We conclude that biological factors, especially prenatal androgen levels, play a role in the development of a gender-variant identity and it is likely that psychosocial variables play a role in interaction with these factors.

A very useful meta-study indeed, summarising what we knew as of 2009, and in particular, the limits of our knowledge.

I don't agree with some parts - the finger-length ratio evidence is thin (to say the least), I don't see the very real differences in gross lateralisation as being evidence of "instability" in neurological development, and there was nothing on the body map, comparing experiences of "phantom limb syndrome" and "missing limb syndrome".

The quality of the papers studied varies enormously. They have all been given equal weight, leading to some conclusions that are dubious. Nonetheless, I'd far rather have no filtering at all than too much, even if the results are squiffy.

There's some confirmation of my hypothesis about bi-gender.
Veale et al. (2008b) analyzed these outcomes using a logistic regression and found that prenatal androgen exposure and sex of assignment at birth equally predicted adult gender identity among this population. They also found that sex chromosomes and time delayed before sex assignment were not significant predictors of adult gender identity, although these variables had a restricted range with the population tested.
In other words, while 1/3 are male, 1/3 female, the remaining third can be assigned an arbitrary gender with little harm.

So you only kill 1/3 of patients if you do that (rather than half). Or at least, cause severe psychological problems, so that some will suicide, and the rest just pray for an early death. And that "one third" figure will vary with the exact condition - assign a child with cloacal dysgenesis as female, and you'll be wrong far more often if they have 46XY chromosomes than merely 1 in 3. Assign a 46XX child with CAH a female form, and you'll be right 80% of the time.

Oh and chromosomes don't matter - except inasmuch as foetal androgen exposure strongly tends to be caused by chromosomal type. But when this tendency doesn't tend, it's only the foetal hormone mix that matters.
Clearly, further independent research using larger samples is needed to assess the BSTc as a proposed neurobiological basis as an explanation of transsexualism
AGH! It can't be causal, it's symptomatic, a result, not a cause! But as a symptom, it's pretty reliable. Yes, we need more research of course, more data is always better, but they've made an unwarranted assumption about causality. Never mind.

Because of its breadth, dealing with handedness ratios, memory tests, 2D visualisation tests etc from a variety of sources, it's very useful as a reference. The methodology of agglutinating all gender-variant behaviour, from transvestitic fetishism to transsexuality, obscures rather than reveals though. For example:
One study has shown that gender clinic patients were more likely than psychiatric patients to report parent death – especially fathers and during adolescence and early adulthood (Bernstein, Steiner, Glaister, & Muir, 1981). Among a population sample,
Långstrom and Zucker (2005) found an increased likelihood of separation from parents during childhood among males reporting transvestic fetishism. However, studies of NGV populations have not found any evidence for an absent father having an effect on gender development (Stevens, Golombok, Beveridge, & ALSPAC Study Team, 2002; Stevenson & Black, 1988) and two further studies have found that MF transsexuals transvestites, and NGV males did not differ in their reported parent relations to each other or likelihood of living with both parents during their childhood (Hogan-Finlay, 1995; Veale et al., 2008a).
All over the shop, not enough variables shackled.

Nonetheless, one I'll refer to in future. Some parts because of their pristine science, other parts as Horrible Examples to learn from.

There is evidence that biological factors, especially prenatal androgen exposure, play a significant role in the etiology of gender-variant identities. While there is also evidence for other biological correlates, this does not necessarily imply more than one biological factor plays a role – it is likely that they are related and share a common precursor. For instance, it is entirely plausible that there is a causal pathway from genes causing atypical prenatal hormones levels causing neuroanatomical differences and an adult gender-variant identity.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Long-Term Psychological Evaluation of Intersex Children Surgeons

Long-Term Psychological Evaluation of Intersex
by Slijper‚ Drop‚ Molenaar‚ and de Muinck Keizer-Schrama Archives of Sexual Behavior(1998) Volume 27, Number 2, 125-144
Despite the sex assignment, genital organ correction soon after birth, psychological counseling of parents and intensive psychotherapy of the children, general psychopathology developed equally in all 4 groups (39% of total group). Although 87% of the girls with a physical intersex condition developed in line with the assigned sex, 13% developed a gender identity disorder though only 1 girl (2%) failed to accept the assigned sex. Gender identity disorder and deviant gender role were in evidence only in girls with CAH and girls of the ambiguous group. Biological and social factors seem responsible for the development of gender identity disorder, such as pre- and postnatal hormonal influences on the brain enabling deviant gender role behavior to develop, and an inability on the part of parents to accept the sex assignment.

Chop up their genitalia into the most convenient shape, and nearly 40% have psychological problems. And should they dare to object to the assignment of their sex by others, why then they have a "Gender identity disorder" and are "deviant".

Biological and social factors seem responsible for the development of gender identity disorder, such as pre- and postnatal hormonal influences on the brain enabling deviant gender role behavior to develop, and an inability on the part of parents to accept the sex assignment. Yes, if the parents notice that despite the surgeon's best efforts, their child is in fact a boy... thinks like a boy, plays like a boy, acts like a boy...then they're to blame. For not accepting that Surgeons' Reality. Oh yes, and the fact that their son had male neuro-anatomy even before birth, I guess that plays a part too. Just a bit.

That was in 1998. Twelve years ago. The evidence is there, right in front of theor noses - but they're still doing it.

Because if they admit to themselves they've been wrong, and remember, the vast majority have dedicated their lives to helping children, to relieving suffering... then they'd have to face the fact that they've been mutilating them, in body and in mind.

I hope they have the courage to admit that they're merely human, they make mistakes, and not persist in their terrible actions just so they can avoid a crushing sense of guilt. Because making mistakes due to insufficient data happens in medicine. They're not infallible. To persist though, that's not a mistake. That's evil.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

What it's like to be Trans

This blog is about science, and politics, and software, and brains, and space... but there's a lot of advocacy too. I haven't updated the header to reflect that, as a reminder to myself that that's not what I originally wanted to blog about.

Many readers - for the majority of them are neither Trans nor Intersexed - might not "get it". How could they? They don't know what it's like, not from personal experience.

I submit this video as explanation. Not my story - I had a loving home, and while primary school left me with scars and broken bones, at high school I was safe. (Coming home was another matter...)

I'm neither Black, nor American.

But to a great extent, this is the story of all Trans and Intersexed people whose condition is made known. This is what happens. This is why I had a 20 month legal fight to get a travel document that would get me back in the country if I travelled overseas.