Tuesday 31 October 2006

The Important Stuff

Sometimes I find it difficult getting too worked up about some Human Rights Issues, even ones affecting me personally. They seem so trivial in the Grand Scheme of Things, yet I have a duty to clean up my own back-yard, so to speak.

Here's why I feel this way. I subscribe to iAbolish, the US-based anti-slavery group. This scourge is still with us in out-of-the-way places, and the wrongness of chattel slavery offends me deeply.
This week, iAbolish brings you an excerpt from chapter 2 of Enslaved: Abuk Bak's story.

When her village in Southern Sudan was raided by an Arab militia in 1987, Abuk Bak; only 12 years old at the time; was kidnapped and subsequently enslaved for ten years. During that time, her master, Ahmed Adam, never once used her name; she was always "abeeda." It was only after she escaped that she learned what it meant: her name for a decade was simply "black slave."

From Chapter 2: Beyond Abeeda

"As we struggled, Ahmed Adam grabbed the knife that he carried in his sleeve and stabbed me in my right thigh. The pain was so strong that he could not stop my screams, and he ran back into the house, afraid that his wife would hear...

"I knew right away that I would not stay to see another morning there, but my leg was bleeding badly. I ripped a piece of cloth from my skirt and tied it around my thigh to try to stop the bleeding, and thought about how to escape. I lay awake all night, knowing that if I ran away I could be found and severely beaten or killed, but I had to take a chance."

You can read about the rest of Abuk's escape in Enslaved: True Stories of Modern Day Slavery
Compared with that, it's a little difficult getting too worked up about trivialities like being denied a passport, or any of the myriad humiliations I've had to endure in my journey so far.

Deferred Success

Oh England, My England!

I've been naturalised since 1988, but I can't help but feel more than a trace of affection for the land of my Birth. So this story saddens me.

From the BBC :
A retired teacher has lost her fight to have the word "fail" replaced by "deferred success" in education speak.

Liz Beattie, from Ipswich, Suffolk, put forward the motion at the Professional Association of Teachers' conference.

She argued many children were put off learning for life after being labelled "failures" but her colleagues rejected the move as "a foot-in-mouth motion".

Ian Pringle, from Canvey Island, Essex, said: "We'll be ridiculed. Please do not vote for this motion."
All well and good. Yes, they'd be a laughing-stock if they did this. But the article then goes on:
Another delegate said failure was not a word used in schools anyway these days.
You see, it's not the concept they're against : just what they're doing being found out and them subject to deserved public ridicule.

An Un Conventional Story

The Hotel's lobby was quietly cool, the soft piano music in the background unobtrusive, almost imperceptible, as smooth as the evening's velvet darkness.

The Middle Aged Alpha Geek walked in, his suit and tie uncomfortable after the day's proceedings, though not as uncomfortable as they were when he'd put them on that morning. Both had a nice, rumpled look now, lived in, to match his personality. And it had pockets, lots of them, now stuffed with a hundred business cards, some from suits, some from colleagues, some from friends, and some from rivals. Networking, they called it. Not the frantic linebuzz of TCP/IP, the you-scratch-my-back-and-I'll-stab-yours world of rustling up venture capital, sailing through fleets of corporate buccaneers hunting for the treasure that was the Next Big Thing.

A necessary Evil. Not His Scene. Something you had to do at any HiTek Convention though.

He spotted her, across the room. A few other women had just left in a group, leaving her in relaxed solitude, comfortably enveloped in a black lounge chair, legs demurely crossed, studying the next morning's programme.

No-one could have mistaken her for a suit, or an advertising dollybird. Not for her, the power trouser suit, the immaculate makeup and thousand-dollar coiffure. Some sort of black silk top, and an ankle-length dress denim skirt, neat but understated. Besides which, she'd given a presentation that morning on lifecycle models, risk analysis, and the impact of team personalities on software design that was as intriguing as it was unconventional.

He'd wanted to speak to her about that, despite his natural shyness around the females of the species. The project that would make or break his firm was just ramping up, and she might just hold the key to its success.

He would have just marched up to a guy and introduced himself, but now he was acutely aware of his bald patch, his over-ample belly, and the salt-and-pepper 5 O'Clock shadow he'd forgotten to scrape off in his hotel room. But what the heck. His divorce was well over a year ago, and it was time he did some socialising. Of course, with his luck, she'd be Lesbian. No matter, her ideas really could make a big difference to The Project, and that's what his life revolved around now since Sandra left with the kids.

"Hi" Oh great line, Joe. that will work wonders he thought. I'm out of practice for this kind of stuff. What was I thinking?

The Geekette, what was her name, Phoebe? sat up a little straighter, tensing slightly, then favoured him with a raised eyebrow that could only be called "quizzical". She could have been any age from her late thirties to early fifties. A bit statuesque for his tastes, almost Amazonish now he was close to her. Broad shouldered. Nice rack though.


Her voice sounded a little huskier than it had over the PA system.

"Hi-I'm-Joe-Macennerny-and-I'd-like-to-speak-to-you-about-your-presentation" the words came out in a rush.Oh God Please Let the Floor Swallow Me Up Now

Her face lit up, a slight smile magically appearing, as she held out her hand and replied.

"Phoebe Dawson. Now what was that again?"

Slowly, he repeated his introduction, and she gestured for him to sit in the overpadded lounge chair beside her.

Soon they were engaged in that intimate intercourse of tech-talk common amongst geeks of every stripe and nationality. When taking tech, her enthusiasm was contagious, her hands weaving patterns of thought, invisible diagrams on a virtual whiteboard that communicated more than mere words could say. He ordered a double bourbon from a passing waiter, she a vodka and lime, and soon they were sharing war stories, tales of spectacular management ineptitude, and even the odd truly foetid pun.

He found himself opening up in a way he never did before, talking about his family, and showing her the pictures of his two daughters. And of his son, his boy who had gone off to war and come home under a flag of honour. Killed in an automobile accident while delivering mail on a poorly surveyed road.

He looked up, fighting off the wateriness that always came into his eyes when he told that story, and saw tears falling down her cheeks. Without prompting, she took his hand, and just held it, her soft skin gently pressing against his, speaking without words a message of comfort, and sympathy, and shared sadness.

"So", he said eventually, "Do you have a family?"

"A boy" she said brightly. "Nearly twelve now. He's staying with my best friend."

"And his father?"

Her whole body seemed to diminish, her face which had been bright and lively dimming and grey, and he knew that once again, he'd blown it. Like he'd blown it with Sandra. Like he always blew it.

"My son's father is.... no longer with us."

"Divorce?" The word just spilt out, he'd been thinking of his own situation, and now he was just making it worse. But she seemed not to notice his gaucherie, nor take offense.

"No, it's a long story. He was born with a rare congenital condition. Neurological. Some die with it, without ever showing symptoms. Some have years, even decades of increasingly bizarre behaviour before the end. It puts a strain on any marriage."

She took a paper handkerchief out of her bag, wiped away her tears, and continued. Now her grief was in full flood, and all he could do was listen.

"Oh, it's not genetic. My son's OK. And his father didn't suffer much, except at the end. Many sufferers suicide, their whole life is one of misery. He didn't have it too badly, till January of '04. He got acute symptoms in January, February was full of medical tests, the typical bizarre behaviour started in March, and in early April, he was gone. Just. Like. That. Leaving us to cope."

"Could nothing be done?"

"No, it's incurable, and still not well understood. The first signs show up at about age 5, you know? Oh, Palliative care can help reduce the agony, but that often hastens rather than delays the end. Oh God, it's a blessed relief to them when they go, he said it was the best thing that could ever happen to him. He was so sorry to leave his family in such a mess, but he said he had no choice, and he was in so much pain...."

Now she was gently crying, her whispered voice choked with low, feminine sobs.

"He tried so very, very hard to be a normal man, and a good father. But he just couldn't do it any more..... So. Here I am. Picking up the pieces of my shattered life."

Not knowing what to do, the Alpha Geek somehow did exactly the right thing, took her hand, and gently held it.

When the waiter came by a little later to freshen their drinks, the pair were once more in animated conversation, sprinkled with laughter and garnished with smiles. Talking an incomprensible private language larded with acronyms like "SLCM", "CMMI", and "J2EE". He sitting a little taller, she absently twiddling her long dangly earings.

The two lonely people conversed long after midnight, and left together, sharing the same lift.

The waiter had bet five bucks those two would be sleeping together that night, but the cynical bartender refused to pay up.

"No open diplay of affection, they could have been going to separate rooms" he said.

"You can never tell by outward appearances."

(c) 2005 Zoe E Brain

Monday 30 October 2006

The Uncanny XX-Men

From Nature :
How can a person with two X chromosomes be a man? In more ways than one...

The battle of the sexes continues to rage — right down to the level of our genes.

A gene has now been discovered that, when mutated, turns girls into boys. The finding advances, but also complicates, our understanding of how sex is determined by our genes.
As if it wasn't complicated enough...
In people, almost all men carry two different sex chromosomes (XY) and women are XX. But there are some (extremely rare) exceptions to this rule. It is possible to have XX men, for example.
And X0 women, and XXY men, and (very rarely) XXY women, and a whole host of others, XY/XX, XY/XO mixtures, and this is just for humans who are mentally normal. XXXY, XXYYY etc and Bad Stuff (tm) happens in neural development.
This female-to-male sex reversal almost always happens when a
certain gene called SRY, usually carried on the Y chromosome, accidentally ends up on the X chromosome inherited from the father.

Other genes have been found to muddle up sexual identity, making the resulting child neither fully male nor fully female.
As regular readers of this blog are no doubt aware. Then there's environmental issues in the womb, where the genes are fine, but a chemical is introduced, or things just go slightly amiss for one reason or another. It happens.
But in most cases of anatomically complete XX men — who have functional testes, but without a Y are infertile — SRY is involved. For this reason, it has long been called the gene that defines 'maleness'.[1]

But now Giovanna Camerino of the University of Pavia in Italy and colleagues have found another gene that is equally important to the process.

The team studied a family in which four brothers were each XX. None carried the 'male' SRY gene. Instead, the team reports in Nature Genetics [2], they each have a mutation in a gene called RSPO1.

It seems that sex is determined in humans by a cascade of genes. At a crucial junction in this process lies a gene called SOX9, which in males is switched on by SRY, causing testis development. In females, the researchers now suggest, SOX9 might be typically switched off by RSPO1, which, via other genes in the cascade, leads to the development of ovaries. In the brothers, it seems the mutated RSPO1 gene could not fulfil its switching-off role, leaving SOX9 on and leading to male development.

This theory fits with animal studies: mice with two X chromosomes that have their SOX9 expression turned back on form testes.[3]

The idea stands in contrast to previous theories that said that female development was basically the default that happens in the absence of genes to direct maleness. "What is really important is that suppression of male and induction of female development is an active process," says Andreas Schedl of INSERM, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research in Nice, who is a co-author on the paper.
"RSPO1 clearly plays a key role in this process." The identification of this gene, he says, may be as important to the field as the identification of SRY.

1. Koopman P., et al. Nature, 351 . 117 - 121 (1991).
2. Parma P., et al. Nature Genet., doi:10.1038/ng1907 (2006).
3. Vidal V. P., et al. Nature Genet, 28 . 216 - 217 (2001).
Another piece in the puzzle. Not an expected one either, hence more valuable than most.

Thursday 26 October 2006

Lego Stargate

It's about time I blogged an Interesting URL. A great source is always Fred Kiesche's Eternal Golden Braid.

From Make Magazine :

Wednesday 25 October 2006

Crisis Averted

From News.com :
AUSTRALIANS travelling to the US can breathe easy. So can the 100,000 or so Australian expatriates living in America.

The US government today dismissed media reports it had banned Vegemite.

"There is no ban on Vegemite," US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) spokesman Mike Herndon said.

Media reports at the weekend claimed American border officials were confiscating Vegemite from Australians as they entered the US.

The FDA, charged with policing America's food supply, has not issued an "import alert" to border officials to halt the import of Vegemite.

Mr Herndon said the FDA was surprised by the media reports.

The controversy centres on folate, an ingredient in Vegemite.

Under US regulations, folate can be added only to breads and cereals.

"One of the Vitamin B components (in Vegemite) is folate," Mr Herndon said.

"In and of itself, it's not a violation. If they're adding folate to it, boosting it up, technically it would be a violation.

"But the FDA has not targeted it and I don't think we intend to target Vegemite simply because of that."

Joanna Scott, spokesperson for Vegemite's maker, Kraft, reportedly has said, "The Food and Drug Administration doesn't allow the import of Vegemite simply because the recipe does have the addition of folic acid".

But Mr Herndon said, "Nobody at the FDA has told them (Kraft) there is a ban".

To eradicate any grey areas or potential regulation breaches, Mr Herndon said, Kraft could petition the FDA, something other food manufacturers have done.

While many Aussies living in the US rely on visiting Australian relatives and friends to bring them a jar or two of Vegemite from Australia, the product is available in some US supermarkets.

The price slapped on Vegemite, however, is tough to swallow.

A tiny, four ounce jar of Vegemite sells for around $US4.80 ($6.33) in US supermarkets.

But from a comment on a previous thread, by my good friend, Scotty :
was forwarded this yesterday and I looked on the shelves of a new snooty grocery shop, hoping to get a jar of Vegemite before it ran out, and I was greated by only Marmite. I was very sad. The Vegemite was gone.

The Vegemite was gone.

Tuesday 24 October 2006

Yet Another Data Point

Another blood test, the last before my Op.

Oestrodiol level a new high, 301 pMol/L. Of course a normal Human being would have at least 600, but I'll take whatever I can get. Still the highest on record.

If the hypothesis about my condition is correct, we could reasonably expect levels to slowly increase as the receptors in the cells get "turned over:, and saturated with post-pubescent levels of hormones.

The progression since starting 8mg of Progynova, tests every 3 months, is 179, 241, 301. Vs a pre-HRT level of about 195.

Still not proven, but the hypothesis has made its first prediction, and come up trumps.

Meanwhile I'm recovering from jaw surgery on Monday, the wisdom tooth had J-curve roots. The extraction didn't hurt despite me having only local anaesthetic, though the bone saw wasn't a pleasant experience. Today, I've just come back from my usual day-trip every 3 months to see Professor Steinbeck, my endocrinologist. All the blood tests - apart from the weird hormonal results - are now slap-bang in the middle of the normal range, so I'm cleared for surgery by him. Next stop, my GP to get BP and cardiac functions checked, and I'll be set to go.

The last bit of medical preparation before the op.

Monday 23 October 2006

Wars Have Started For Less

From Blogcritics
About Australia, a US based store providing American consumers with traditional products from Down Under, was forced to stop importing Vegemite six months ago, however the product was actually limited to 113gram (4oz) jars in 2005. Expat Daniel Fogarty, now living in Canada, was recently searching for Vegemite while crossing the border on a trip to Montana. Other travelers have had their jars of Vegemite confiscated.
At the bottom of this bizarre prohibition is the US Food and Drugs Administration (of course), who say they disapprove of the addition of folate to anything other than bread or grain products such as flour and pasta.
Okay, time for the serious stuff. Exactly what is folate and why is it so bad?

Folate is a water-soluble B vitamin found naturally in green vegetables, legumes, liver, and some fruits and nuts, not to mention yeast extracts. It works in conjunction with B12 (also present in Vegemite) to produce the genetic materials for cell growth and reproduction. Folate helps to build proteins and healthy red blood cells, which means it is an important nutrient in the defence against anemia. Furthermore, there is some evidence to suggest that high folate intake can reduce the risk of certain diseases.

Sounds like pretty good stuff, right? The FDA thinks so, too.

In 1998, after several years of deliberation, the FDA ruled on regulations for the mandatory addition of folic acid (the synthetic equivalent of folate) to breads, cereals, and other grain products, to assist in the prevention of neural tube defects such as spina bifida. Nine months after the policy was introduced, incidence of spina bifida was reportedly reduced by 31 percent. However, it is argued that the supplementation is inadequate and many more cases of birth defect could be avoided with a higher dosage.

Nevertheless, the FDA purports to the theory that too much folate can mask vitamin B12 deficiency in the elderly and, they argue, Vegemite contains just too much. I’m thinking the FDA hasn’t been reading the nutritional information panel on their jar of Vegemite, which suggests a 5 gram serving for 50% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI) of 200 micrograms of folate per day, or 400 micrograms for women of child bearing age.

Not only that, the Institute of Medicine has established a daily upper intake level (UL) of no more than 1000 micrograms of folic acid so as not to mask symptoms of B12 deficiency.

That’s an awful lot of Vegemite, even for an Aussie. Just how much Vegemite is the FDA slapping on their slice of toast?

But it's gotten worse. From the Courier Mail :
THE United States has slapped a ban on Vegemite, outraging Australian expatriates there.
The bizarre crackdown was prompted because Vegemite contains folate, which in the US can be added only to breads and cereals.

Expatriates say that enforcement of the ban has been stepped up recently and is ruining lifelong traditions of having Vegemite on toast for breakfast.

Former Geelong man Daniel Fogarty, who now lives in Calgary, Canada, said he was stunned when searched while crossing the US border recently.

"The border guard asked us if we were carrying any Vegemite," Mr Fogarty said.

"I was flabbergasted." Paul Watkins, who owns a store called About Australia in San Antonio, Texas, said he had been forced to stop importing Vegemite six months ago.

"We have completely stopped bringing it in," he said.

"(US authorities) have made a stance and there is nothing that can be done about it."

You know what to do. Go to SaveVegemite.com, or just e-mail the White House direct.

Sunday 22 October 2006

The Tenth Dimension

Superstrings for beginners, explained here.

Curtsy to reader (and former schoolmate) Hugh.

And if you think a ten-spatial-dimension Universe is something miraculous, you should see the pictures of his baby daughter.

That a Universe could exist with a place in it for concepts such as Love, that is the real miracle. The mechanics are interesting too, of course, but somehow... less important.

Friday 20 October 2006


Another interesting day.

Ok, so there was a big pow-wow today, with the Education Mavenette of the AutoCRC.

I better provide subtitles.

My PhD - and about a dozen others - is being funded by the Co-Operative Research Centre (CRC) for advanced Automotive systems. CRCs are joint educational/Industry Research and Development groups, co-operative partnerships where academic and industry groups get together to see what they can do for each other. Industry provides the money, and gets both directed research, a higher profile amongst undergrads, and even a say in what is taught, so they have a skilled workforce that meets their needs.

This was a planning meeting, saying what the situation was, and to explore future possibilities and overcome difficulties.

One of the 3 main problems the Automotive Industry has here is Diversity - there isn't any. Only 8% of engineering graduates are female, and less than 1% of engineers working in the auto industry.

As the senior female engineer there (3 gals, 30 guys, sigh) , and since I'm a member of the WICcans (Women in Information and Communication - WIC - the national group), and the WITches (Women in Information Technology - the group within the ANU's Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology), I got a special after-meeting one-on-one with the Education mavenette. She was really interested in what was going on, and needed the contacts.

Well, after a Kaffeklatsch about Diversity, how to achieve it, what's gone wrong with previous attempts etc, I decided to give her the post-grad treatment. I showed her my presentation on Intersex, and about three quarters of the way through the penny started to drop. The slide about passport difficulties for IS and TS people, as she knew that I'd had some for unspecified reasons.

She still burst out in stifled laughs when she saw the last slide - the one detailing (with pictures) my unique perspective. Then we got around to discussing how TS is 1:3500 or so in the general population, but 1:100 in IT, and we think about 1:250 in Engineering generally.

They're just starting to formulate HR policies in this regard, so I'll be involved in that in addition to my PhD studies. As she said, we might even generate a paper on the subject.

It was great to get a hug from her as she left. I think we'll work well together.

Thursday 19 October 2006

Landed Immigrant

I have just been informed that an official decision has been made by the Department of Immigration to update my records.

As of two days ago, as far as they're concerned, I'm now Zoe Ellen Brain, Australian Citizen, Landed Immigrant. Legally Female, too, and with UK passport number recorded.

OK, so they sent me my new Citizenship certificate some time ago, but it takes time for these things to work through the system. Two months and some weeks, rather faster than I thought it might in fact.

Hmmmm... I wonder of that will help me get my UK Birth Certificate changed one day? Oh well, that's another struggle, and sufficient unto the day the troubles thereof.

I leave for Thailand in just over 3 weeks. The end of a long nightmare is in sight. As long as Murphy doesn't intervene, of course, and I have a deep and abiding faith in both him and his consort, Eris, Goddess of Chaos and Confusion!

Wednesday 18 October 2006

Thoughts on Gender

Here's a post I wrote in reply to Jane, a woman who I greatly admire. She transitioned when the odds against it were almost unsuperable, when you could count the number of SRS surgeons in the world on the fingers of one hand - and not use your thumb.
She'd "Deep Stealth", having had pretty close to a normal life since her mid 20's, so I can give no more details about her. Other than she's quite a gal.

It's about the nature of gender - and those transsexual people who for some reason or other never quite seem to look right in their acquired gender. Nothing you can put your finger on - but some just look exactly right, while others ring false.

Like you Jane, I'm convinced that the answer lies in the brain.

Look at the diagram - values of -4 to -1 we call "male", values 0.5 to 4 we call "female".

All sexed species have facilities for recognition of the opposite sex buried deep in their nervous system. The same goes for their sexual identity. That's necessary for species survival - though by some theories, having a trace amount of cross-gendered identification may be advantageous. Or maybe it's just in the nature of things that stuff goes wrong sometimes, and to make it absolutely 100% accurate would have penalties not worth the cost.

Now we know from autopsies, and most recently, dynamic MRI imaging that the human brain is very sexually dimorphic - at least as dimorphic as the genitalia. But it's also a very complex organ. It might be best described as a vector with not dozens, but thousands of values. Put into plain english, a brain might be FFFfFfffFmFFFfFFmfF - indicating strongly feminine (F) in some aspects, normally feminine (F) in others, weakly feminine (f) in others, and even a bit more masculine than feminine (m) in a few.

Really though, "feminine" could be anywhere from 0.5 to 4 as shown in the diagram, and I'm simplifying hugely.

Now my own studies, and research by other workers in Artificial and Natural Intelligence, indicate that we think consciously a lot less than we think we do, and think subconsciously a lot more. Moreover, we make use of stereotypes a lot to fill in the gaps in information that we don't have.

For example "it has 4 wheels and is on a road" leads us to the belief that "it" is a car, an automobile, and we're usually right in that belief. We don't have to examine the chemical composition of the paintwork, and other such details.

The brain's "programmable firmware" give us our instincts, our talents, the way we move and react, the way we carry ourselves. A recent study showed that gender recognition was based more on movement than anything else. You, Jane, could be wearing a boiler suit, and just the way that you walk, or even your stance when standing still, would clue anyone that you're a woman. That's because the base part of your brain causes your posture to be that way. Typically feminine, maybe 3 on the graph above. There are other sexual cues too, body shape, face, and there's additional cultural programming on top of that. In our society, men generally don't wear floral prints, skirts, lipstick, and these are additional cues, but the basics are still instinctive, we "think" without knowing that we think.

Now when things go wrong - and for some of us, that means 47xxy chromosomes, for others 46xy but a glitch in masculinisation, etc etc we may end up not with FFFfFfffFmFFFfFFmfF but with FFfMFfmfFmFfFfFFmfF. Still recognisably female, but with some bits under-feminised.

Though again, it's a bimodal distibution, numbers <0 are "typically male", >0 "typically female", so it's not quite right to say bits of the brain are "masculinised" or "feminised". They are what they are, typical or atypical for a given gender.

And that is why I was so emotionally affected by getting involved with the Women in Technology. I knew from my studies that my brain hadn't been feminised "properly", it couldn't have been, no matter how much I might wish it were so. But when I joined WIT, I found other women, natal women, who thought just like I did. I hadn't been damaged beyond repair, my femininity wasn't congenitally wrecked, I was no more masculine than any of the others there, and more feminine than a few. Yet they were all women. I wasn't "second class", "ersatz", or shoddy goods after all.

Anyway, that's why, despite there being a "spectrum", we still fit into one of two main categories. It's why 99.9% of us are recognisable no matter what we do, provided enough of the misgendering cues (such as build) aren't all consistently too far from the norm.

But if you are a woman, regardless of the genitalia or chromosomes you were born with, and the parts of your brain controlling how you move and carry yourself are misgendered, then you have a problem.

A minority of TS people have this. They must "learn" techniques to overcome their intincts and move in a way that will cause correct gender recognition. But others have the opposite problem, their intincts are so strong that they must "learn" techniques to overcome their instincts just so they will pass as the gender they're not. Those TS women with very masculine bodies (like me) are pretty much forced to do this, and the bar for success is lower than for those with androgenous/feminine bodies. Those, the andro/femme primary transitioners, have basically no hope of pretending to be guys successfully. Like you, Jane.

It does mean though that some TS women have to work at it, while the majority of us just have to relax, and get rid of as many somatically male cues ( voice, face, skin texture, clothing ) as we can.

The impassable ones are just as female as we are, and more so in some cases. They just have parts of their brain masculinised that we don't.

Tuesday 17 October 2006

Wilful Blindness

From the National Review:
The credibility of the flagship of U.N. “reform,” the newly created Human Rights Council, sunk during its very first session, which ended on Friday, June 30th. The deck chairs on the Titanic had been rearranged when the Council replaced the discredited Commission on Human Rights. Serial human-rights abusers were elected members right from the start.
The Human Rights Council is now the U.N.’s lead human-rights body, and examples of egregious human-rights violations should not have been hard to find. In Darfur, there are three quarters of a million people beyond humanitarian reach, 2.5 million people displaced by the violence, 385,000 people in immediate risk of starvation, and over two million dead in 22 years of violence and deprivation. But it wasn’t genocide in Sudan that interested the Human Rights Council. Nor was it a billion Chinese without civil and political rights. Not 13 million women in Saudi Arabia whose lives depend on hiding from sight in public places and never being caught behind the wheel of an automobile. Not the dire human-rights conditions of 23 million people in North Korea. Not Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s incitement to genocide or his country’s legal system, which includes crucifixion, stoning and amputation.

No; there was only one country singled out by the U.N. Human Rights Council, and that was Israel.
The Council placed criticism of Israel permanently on the agenda of all future sessions. It gave only the special investigator on Israel what amounted to a permanent mandate. On its final day, the Council passed just one resolution condemning human-rights violations by any of the 192 U.N. members, and directed it at Israel. When it was all over, the Council decided to hold its first special (emergency) session within a few days — on Israel.
At the Commission (the dysfunctional former UN Human Rights body), over a 40-year period, 30 percent of the resolutions condemning human rights violations by specific states were directed at Israel. The Council is now batting 1.000. And given a behind-the-scenes deal not to have any country-specific resolutions at least in the first year of operation (with the exception of Israel), that figure is not likely to change any time soon.

From RadioFreeEurope :
RFE/RL: Mary Robinson, may I ask you about the Human Rights Council? This was a body meant to replace a predecessor that came under a lot of criticism for failing to address human rights abusers on the commission. But the council has just ended its session, and one group at least, Human Rights Watch, called it a huge disappointment, again failing to address some of the big human rights issues, such as Darfur. Do you share the view that it's a disappointment?

Mary Robinson: Well, like Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty, and some of the other major human rights organizations, I did welcome the establishment of the Human Rights Council, and I felt that it had a real possibility of trying to break through sensitive political issues with a human rights leadership, which is never easy. The current president of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador [Luis Alfonso] de Alba of Mexico, is very committed, and it had a reasonably good start.

I think there were two things that worried me. One was when the war broke out in Lebanon, and you had the response of Israel, which is very questionable about being disproportionate, and raised issues of civilian casualties and displacement and destruction of property, and bridges, etc., which raises issues of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. But you also had Hizballah sending missiles into civilian populations in northern Israel.

I hoped that the Human Rights Council would act in a human rights way, and set up a commission of inquiry into both. Alas -- and this was a problem of the previous Human Rights Commission -- it only set up a commission of inquiry into what had happened in Israel, by the Israel forces. And that is not the human rights approach; that is the political approach. And if the Human Rights Council continues to taint human rights with the political approach, this time because of the Organization of the Islamic Conference countries.... They had the majority, they wanted to hit Israel, not do human rights work. How can you have a Human Rights Council that's not absolutely outraged by what's happening in Darfur?

So that's one very big problem. And then, I would very much agree with Human Rights Watch. How can you have a Human Rights Council that's not absolutely outraged by what's happening in Darfur? It's getting worse by the day. There are women being raped, there are children dying, there are populations being displaced, there's a militia that's being supported in a complicit way by a government, and the fact that they didn't bring it to our attention in a more urgent way, and have more urgent action.... The Security Council was also involved, but the Human Rights Council is the voice. "We the people" is the first three words of the charter.

But I still hope that the Human Rights Council will work well, because the United Nations needs leadership on human rights.
Everyone with two neurons to fire consecutively could predict what would happen - what has happened. If Mary Robinson, former head of the Human Rights Council's predecessor "hoped that the Human Rights Council would act in a human rights way" with the current batch of dictatorships and tyrannies that compose the majority of the commission, it can't be lack of intellect. It requires wilful blindness.

The same wilful blindness the world as a whole is showing about Dafur.

I blame Bush.

Or rather, I think the US political scene is partially to blame. The problem is that it was a Republican President who dared to liberate 50 million people, not a Democrat. For this, Bush can never be forgiven by the US Media, though of course a lot of the world's media is congenitally Anti-US no matter who is in power, simply because they distrust any nation or organisation that is too powerful. Much as many on the far right of the US distrust the UN, regardless of what it does.

As a result, the world as a whle has lost its idealism. From The Australian :
In Rwanda in 1994, pit latrines were favoured places for the disposal of bodies. When I was there two years after the genocide, people were retrieving the bodies from the pits and giving them church burials. In 100 days, not of tribal madness but of government-organised slaughter, Rwandan Hutus killed close to one million Rwandan Tutsis. Today in Rwanda it is considered bad form to talk of Tutsi and Hutu. All are simply Rwandans, which must give some cause for hope.

In Darfur, wells are a favoured means of disposing of bodies. This time two years ago I was in a refugee camp near the Chad-Sudan border, hearing stories of people who had fled the massacres in the Darfur region of Sudan. This conflict, now in its third year, was even then being described as "Rwanda in slow motion". Whether it is a genocide or, as the UN would describe it, merely "ethnic cleansing" is still being disputed.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir says the UN resolution for the deployment of peacekeepers is a "Zionist plot" to weaken the region and an insult to his country's sovereignty. He has threatened that his soldiers will fight any uninvited UN forces. He may be bluffing. But because so little pressure has been put on him until now, Bashir appears to believe he can get away with whatever he wants. (Incredibly, in 2004, while the massacres in Darfur had been under way for months, Sudan was elected to the then UN Human Rights Commission.)

The problem, of course, is Iraq.

What the world desperately needs, and hasn't got, is a strong, effective and united UN. That was lost over Iraq. What the world needs and hasn't got is a strong affirmation of the principle that governments do not have the right to brutalise and massacre their own people with impunity, simply by claiming national sovereignty. That was lost in Iraq, too. There was always a case for humanitarian intervention in Iraq, though it was clearly not the reason for the invasion (which I supported). What has been lost, in the tragedy that Iraq has become, is idealism.

It has become naive and stupid to believe that there is even such a thing as an international community, let alone one that can intervene to stop genocidal dictators, which Saddam Hussein certainly was when he was in power and Bashir gives every indication of wanting to be.

The mandate of the African Union troops has been extended to the end of this year. For all sorts of reasons it would be better if African forces could keep the peace in Darfur. But what Bashir needs to believe is something Saddam never believed: that if he can't or won't stop the killings, a stronger international force will come in and do it, with or without his consent. (Bashir is no Hussein and it is very likely he would crumble once his bluff was called.)

What we need to get back is the belief that, in the 21st century, in this age of globalisation, we owe protection to people in distant countries, even if we are not being threatened.

Unless we can get back some of that belief, some of that idealism, we are going to keep hearing about atrocities such as Darfur and are going to keep demanding something be done, without knowing or acknowledging what it is that has to be done.

The predecessor to the UN, the League of Nations, did nothing to stop WW II. But if anything, the current UN is even worse, and it's not getting better. Quite the contrary. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Fascist Spain, Japan and Stalin's Russia would now have seats on the Human Rights Commission if they were around today.

We need something like the UN, despite the ravings of the far right. But the current UN is unsalvageable, all attempts at reform have just made the situation worse. Time to mend it with a new 'un.

Monday 16 October 2006

Special Victims

Australian TV is a little behind the current US series. Case in point, the latest episode of Law & Order : SVU. Special Victims Unit.

The episode just aired was Identity.

It left me in tears. You see, so much of the episode was based on fact.

From Intersex Initiative :
Investigators confront the parents: "What happened? Is it that you just had to have a boy and a girl?" "It was a freak accident. They do it hundred times a day. It's supposed to be a routine procedure." "What?" "Circumcision... They used some sort of device to remove foreskin--it malfunctioned. Burned him severely. We spoke to all those experts, and they all said that he will never be normal... Imagine the abuse he'd take in locker rooms. Humiliation of explaining it to the girl he fell in love with. We couldn't put him through that." "Did you think that sex change operation would be easier for him?" "What else could we do? Dr. Blair convinced us that it was the only hope our child had for a normal life... He promised us that it would work. He promised us, as long as we are committed to raising him as a girl."

Next, investigators visit Dr. Blair, a character obviously based on psychologist/sexologist John Money. "Any plastic surgeon would tell you that it's easier to dig a hole than to build a pole... In order for the experiment to work, she has to look like a girl, be treated like a girl, and taught to act like a girl... Children are born psychosexually neutral, a blank slate. Gender identity is determined by nurture, not nature."

Investigators then go back to Lindsey to tell her that they would not press charge against her because it was self-defense, but Lindsey is rightfully confused about what had happened. "But I don't understand... You said my brother had to have done it. Just tell me what's going on! I feel like I'm going crazy. Please." It is at this point Lindsey is finally told the truth despite the objection of Dr. Blair. "You were born a boy. There was an accident right after you were born." "I knew it! I never once felt right! Why didn't anybody tell me? Why didn't you tell me? What was my name?" Almost immediately, Lindsey stops taking estrogen and chooses to transition back to his genetic gender.

But that is not all: Logan wishes to press charge against Dr. Blair. "He molested us. He used to show us these pictures of adults having sex. He pushed us into positions. He used to make me and my sister pretend we are having sex." This is the detail similar to Dr. Money's practice described in "As Nature Made Him." In response, Dr. Blair insists that everything was necessary part of the treatment. "It was important to differentiate their gender roles... It clarified things for Lindsey. She had to be programmed. It's perfectly normal for children to explore each others' bodies." "So you are not denying any of the allegations Logan made about your practices?" "Denying? I'm writing a book about it."
The most unbelievable parts of the episode are the parts that most closely mirror reality. That is exactly what happened, and yes, he did write a book.

Now we know - or most know - that Gender is set in the brain, not the genitalia, and not amenable to any amount of nurture or brainwashing. Goodness knows, many Transsexuals try so very hard to be the gender the mirror and society tells them they have to be. And a small proportion of TS people have been made that way. Born Intersexed, their bodies were changed to the gender the surgeons guessed was best. Often they guess right, and a normal life becomes possible. Sometimes though, they guess wrong, and Transsexuality results.

This practice is still standard today. Instead of waiting till the child is old enough to state which gender they feel themselves to be, Intersexed children are, to put it bluntly, genitally mutilated shortly after birth.

Here's the ending in fiction:
In the end, however, Dr. Blair is found murdered in his office. They find the DNA and security camera evidences indicating that either Logan or Lindsey--now going by Luke--must have committed the crime, but they cannot figure out which one did it. "They came up with a perfect crime." "Until you get one of them to flip." "That's not going to happen. They are too close." The scene pans out as Logan and Luke, now wearing similar clothes and hairstyles, feel each other's presence through the holding cell wall.
The ending in fact:
Unfortunately, in the real "John/Joan" case both twins--Brian and David Reimer--have committed suicide
Dr Money died not long ago, well-respected in his field, despite his inhuman conduct.

I'm on a variety of support groups. Some of the most amazing things have happened, people being treated this way, as experimental animals, even to this day. I have to deal with the wreckage, the consequences, the pain every single day, providing support simply because I've had it just so easy compared with nearly everybody. I can't not help. And yes, I get my share of support too, sometimes things aren't easy for me either.

Seeing this episode caused me to be unspeakably angry at the way some people have been treated, and are continuing to be treated. OK, I've been discriminated against in this whole Passport farce, but compared with other things, it's nothing.

I just have to remember - it was only a TV program, and one not the freshest either.

A program about Special Victims indeed.


It's like being stung by a bee. 40,000 times. Costing you 30c a sting.

But it's better than being the "bearded lady".

Some people see it as some sort of "rite of passage", a necessary evil that separates those who are strong enough to successfully transition from those who will pike out.

Personally, I think that's rubbish. I mean, they're only bee-stings, for goodness' sake. There are far worse problems, to do with one's marriage, one's family, one's children, important stuff. Very real health risks too with the hormones, liver failure, diabetes, deep vein thrombosis.

On the other hand, in terms of pain, yes, far worse than having a tooth extracted, something else I've had recently. Dearie, Dearie me, wisdom teeth are not supposed to start growing again. And a recent X-ray confirms that yes, another one is growing to replace one I had extracted about 10 years ago. Impacted, of course.

Oh well, if that's the worst of my problems, I've gotten off lightly. Still hurts though. Rite of Passage? Pshaw! I'm just lucky that IPL (Intense Pulsed Light) cleared away about 90% of the facial hair, so I only have about 4000 to deal with. Another 211 out today, that's nearly 1000 of them gone.

Friday 13 October 2006

What the Papers Say

There's the UK Tabloids. The Sun is in a class of its own, for example:

Angling Star had his Rod removed (October 5th):
A Woman who won one of angling’s top prizes has a secret past — as a man.
(Photo : Gina lost her tackle)
Gina le Faux, 51, was once George Faux, a professional folk singer who lost his rod in sex-change surgery.

Sex-change woman darts ban :
A Woman darts player has been thrown out of her ladies’ league — because she used to be a man.

Christine Makin, formerly Clive, had to quit her pub team after 17 out of 25 rival sides protested.

She revealed she was cruelly taunted during games, with opponents shouting: “You can’t play because you’re not womanly enough.”

Christine, 51, was married for 13 years as a man but became a woman through a series of sex-change operations.

Now, just like David Walliams’s Emily Howard character in Little Britain, she insists: “I’m a laydee.”
Shades of Steppin Fetchit. "Yes Massa, I's a Cumin!"

Here's "Emily Howard", on the right. Just so you know what they mean.

But Leek Ladies’ Darts League in Staffs disagreed.

Christine was turfed out for the 2006/7 season under Rule 35, which states: “Under no circumstances can any person of any gender play in the league unless that person was born a female.”

She claims the rule was brought in specially to keep her out.
Ya Think?

Sex-swap cop got me the chop :
A Cop has been suspended for refusing to call his cross-dressing male colleague MELANIE-SARAH.

PC Jason Anderson, 35, faces a disciplinary hearing because he insists on treating transsexual copper David Hanson as a man.

He is being hauled over the coals by his bosses at Cleveland Police despite the fact they themselves refused PC Hanson’s demand to let him dress as a WPC.

Married dad-of-two PC Hanson, 45, stunned colleagues when he first revealed he wanted to be a woman. Police chiefs let him grow his hair and change his name — but drew the line at a female uniform. When off-duty, PC Hanson wears women’s clothing and fake boobs — and is on hormones in preparation for a sex swap op next year.
Part of her qualification for treatment is that she take on the new gender role for at least a year, two in the UK. I;m surprised that her treatment by her employer has allowed her to continue, especially in the UK. She must be going to a private doctor, at her own expense.
Last night a police source at Hartlepool nick said: “PC Anderson will not co-operate and acknowledge PC Hanson as a woman in any way. He points out that, as Cleveland Police will not allow Hanson to dress as a woman cop, he should not be forced to address him as a WPC.

“Jason was suspended and has a disciplinary hearing this week and could be sacked.

“It would be a tragedy as he is a very good copper.”
As opposed to that jumped-up Pervert who should be shot, right? The one who, despite having passed through Goodness knows how many psychiatric barriers is now labelled as a "cross-dressing man". Actually a woman forced to cross-dress as a man during working hours.

OK, so let's get a little more up-market. Well, the Grauniad anyway. Some of the comments on one of their recent articles, this one about the witch-hunting of Dr Russel Reid.
The way society approaches cosmetic surgery (and I think gender reassignment belongs in this category) needs rethinking...
Spend the cash on cancer care or something.
There is no such thing as a sex change. No amount of hormones could turn the billions of XY chromosomes in my body into XX chromosomes. "Gender dysphoria" is a psychological problem. Like any other psychological problem, it is unlikely to be cured by mutilating the patients genitals and pumping them full of hormones.
The whole concept of "changing gender" is an absurdity.

Castrate a man and pump him full of estrogen and you have a woman?

Not hardly.
Lloydy2: Spend the cash on cancer care or something.

Dr Reid provided primarily private treatment. Because of bigots sharing your attitude, we all had little choice but to pay for it out of our own money.
I suppose that I will not fully understand transsexuality, but, having heard from you and others on this blog, I accept that it is real. It must be truly difficult and I admire not just your courage to try and set things right, but also your taking time to educate the rest of us on this blog.

Thank you, all TS bloggers.

And from The Australian :
ONLY a girl could write The Female Brain and walk away with life and reputation intact. This new book may be contentious, but in fact modern science is merely playing catch-up with what we know intuitively. Girls are different from boys.

Mind-blowing news, huh?

But here's the really brave bit: the unisex brain is a feminist fabrication. Louann Brizendine, an American neuro-psychiatrist, has written a book debunking stubborn notions that girls are different only because society makes them so. It's much more to do with the brain, she says. The female brain, to be more precise.

Here's a snap brain quiz. Which sex uses, on average, about 20,000 words a day, in contrast to the 7000 uttered by the other sex? Who has two-and-a-half times the amount of brain space devoted to sexual drive, meaning they think about sex, on average, every 52 seconds? When their feelings are hurt by someone they love, which sex reacts by assuming the relationship is over? Who has larger sections of the brain for action and aggression? If you answered, in order, women, men, women, men, you've been watching too many Woody Allen movies. Now, science is confirming that Woody was right all along.

While more than 99 per cent of male and female genetic coding is the same, it's the less than 1 per cent of difference that packs a punch in marking out women from men. Drawing upon advances in gene technology and brain-imaging techniques that have revolutionised neuro-scientific research, Brizendine presents a heady cocktail of structural, chemical, genetic, hormonal and functional differences between women and men.

These biological differences explain the most basic female behaviour. For instance, why do teenage girls endlessly talk? Science suggests that connecting through conversation triggers the pleasure centres in the brain.
Can I take the Fifth there? Anyone who's known me for long will be aware that I;'m a little loquacious at times. Just a bit mind you.

OK, but now I know why. So much obvious in hindsight.

Thursday 12 October 2006

Tooth or Consequences

Looks like the various Hormonal and general metabolic weirdness is affecting my teeth too. A fully impacted wisdom tooth has started growing again, and has pretty much destroyed the tooth in front of it.

Anyway, just had an extraction today, with a surgical extraction scheduled for Monday. So blogging will be light for a while.

Tuesday 10 October 2006

Just a Good Blog

Sometimes you see a penny in the dust. Sometimes it's actually a gold sovereign.

Have a look at the NeoBlog Medication Time.

Monday 9 October 2006

The SMH Belfry

The Sydney Morning Herald used to be a good paper, once upon a time. But it has steadily moved further, and further, and yet further, not so much towards the Left as to stark staring Insanity. And the readership now reflects this.

From their Comments Page about the recent North Korean Nuclear Test. Here's the first 3.
No, I'd say it's become a lot safer now. With a nuclear deterrent Korea is now less likely to be invaded by the USA.
Posted by: Tony B at October 9, 2006 01:17 PM

No less safe than the world is now. Israel already has nuclear weapons and has proven it can't be trusted not to bomb the blazes out of another country.
Posted by: sam88 at October 9, 2006 01:23 PM

I am more concerned about indiscriminate terrorist attacks against innocent people and the global aggression displayed by the US government. I think North Korea is a lonely outpost of Communism, but is of little threat to the world, unless the US decides to aggravate them. Unless they show signs of invading South Korea, I don't see any reason to be concerned about their internal politics and international grandstanding.
Posted by: Dean at October 9, 2006 01:24 PM
Some more responses:
World will most certainly be more dangerous. Not because NK has done what they have done, but simply because of Uncle Sams knee jerk reaction.
Posted by: Woka at October 9, 2006 01:29 PM
I'm a lot more worried by the US, who is the only country who has ever used nuclear weapons against people.
People allways forget that they use them twice, against civilian targets!
One was an airburst, and one was a ground detonation. They used two bombs against innocent people to test which would be more destructive.

Now that is a terrorist rouge state if I ever saw one!
Posted by: dude at October 9, 2006 01:31 PM

DPRK would not have tested a nuclear bomb if Bush was not the president of USA.
Posted by: Maan at October 9, 2006 01:31 PM
It's very refreshing to see someone sticking it in the eye of America and Israel. I would encourage Iran to continue as well. We are not falling for the propaganda that is spun up by George W. Bush any more. The world will only get safer the more we deter America from pushing us around. This seems to be the only language they understand. Let's keep the ball rolling.
Posted by: Samson at October 9, 2006 01:39 PM
Not that i agree with nuclear weapons but hasnt the US tested weapons? The Costs of the Manhattan Project (US) $20,000,000,000. Total number of nuclear missiles built, 1951-present: 67,500. Pot calling the kettle black Bush.
Posted by: alan at October 9, 2006 01:41 PM

The hostile attitude of NK is a direct response of decades of western hostility. Iran will be the next new nuclear kid on the block. And the west will simply have to swallow its arrogance and take it.

The threat of war from the US is far greater than NK or Iran. And can someone please explain why these nations having nuclear power is such a bad thing when during the cold war Russia and the US wouldnt dare fire on each other in fear of wiping the world out?
Posted by: Jim at October 9, 2006 01:42 PM

Great. So now the US, with a leader who cannot even pronounce the word "Nuclear" will be having an itchy trigger finger
Posted by: Andy at October 9, 2006 01:43 PM

North Korea is a brutal dictatorship, but it's had nuclear weapons for years. But US policy seems to be "Be nice to us or we'll bring democracy to your country".
Posted by: Gren at October 9, 2006 01:44 PM

Absolutely not. The United States government couldn't care less about they're own people so why the hell would they think twice about murdering millions from another country. Anti-Korean sentiment is clouding seriousness of this issue for alot of people.
Posted by: asdf at October 9, 2006 01:44 PM
And the last comment before the site was closed:

'A man who keeps his people in abject poverty, '

Have you seen America's health system and social security and privately run Gaols.

'has a record of staggering human rights abuses'
US Foreign policy in South America, Vietnam to name just two....

' and is completely paranoid. '
I'd be paranoid if the world's only super power branded me part of an axis of evil.
Posted by: whitty at October 9, 2006 04:34 PM
I don't think I need say more.

Friday 6 October 2006

The Great Passport Fiasco : A Victory For Common Sense ?

In a Previous post, I wrote:
...someone had the Bright Idea that a document of limited validity, good for 5 years (later changed to 3) not 10, and not considered adequate as a passport by many countries, but with the great virtue that it made no statement about the holder's identity, could be used. Such a document existed, the Document of Identity, or DOI. In response to a passport application by someone who was evidentially transgendered and pre-operative, A DOI would be offered as an alternative to an arguably useless M type (for someone identifying as female) passport. No statement would be made about the holder's gender as far as the Government was concerned, and no admission that the holder was "really" of a gender other than the one they identified as would be required.
Overall though, it was a humane compromise: not quite as good as a full passport, but often good enough, and issue of it avoided all sorts of legal complexities and a possible test case about gender that the Government didn't want. The Re Kevin decision hadn't gone their way, and who knows what the Courts may find? A Transgendered applicant would be faced with the question of whether they wanted to fight for years, and have a possibly financially devastating loss and lose existing rights, or accept the compromise. By applying for a passport in an F identity, they asserted their right to be considered that, and the Government made no reply either way - just offered this alternative.

And the option of a 12-month validity F passport was still there for SRS, should they wish to travel for the operation to a country where a DOI was inadequate.
Not perfect, but the hardship caused would be small. Not as good as the UK policy, of issuing a correctly gendered passport on evidence of living permanently in the new gender, but good enough.
The intent was not to require the transgendered person to apply for a DOI - for then they would be "Australian citizens who request a document of identity instead of a passport". No, by section 60, a DOI would be issued to meet immediate travel needs, in response to a passport request.

And there there was a problem already. Instead of a full 3-year unrestricted DOI, this would be only to "meet immediate travel needs". Arguably, the intent was to have the situation similar to that of a DOI for travel to Norfolk island, unrestricted except for the 3-year validity, and the restriction that many countries didn't accept a DOI as adequate.
That was what I thought should be happening - but wasn't. I now have evidence indicating that indeed, this was the intent of the Legislation.

Here it is, received in this morning's mail, just an hour or two ago:

Dear Ms Brain,

Thank you for your email dated 13 September 2005 to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Mr Downer has requested that I respond on his behalf.

As advised previously, persons born overseas who have undergone gender reassignment surgery, and who are applying for a passport in their new gender, are required to provide medical certificates from two registered medical practitioners, confirming they have undergone gender affirmation surgery, that they are 18 yeasr of age or over and unmarried.

As you do not meet these requirements but have advised that a Document of Identity (DOI) would satisfy your needs, I am very pleased to advise that I am able to approve the issue of such a document valid for three years (the maximum period permissible) to enable you to meet your commitments for travel associated with your medical condition and PHD studies. The Document of Identity will not record your gender.

In order to set arrangements in train, you will need to acknowledge the advice contained in the accompanying letter by signing the attachment and forwarding the same to the Canberra Passport Office. Once the Document of Identity has been issued the fee of $38 will be deducted from the sum we are holding and the balance will be refunded to you.

Thank you for bringing your views to the attention of the Government.

Yours Sincerely
Ross Tysoe
Assistant Secretary
Passport Client Service Branch
Attached Letter:
Dear Ms Brain.
Passport Application
Thank you for your recent application for an Australian passport. I refer to our subsequent advice on the possible issue of a Document of Identity.

It is important to note that the following information about issuing you an Australian Document of Identity without the sex/gender section being displayed. While this will alleviate unnecessary embaressment to you when travelling, it is important for you to be aware that:
  • some countries do not regard a Document of Identity as a valid travfel document.
  • custioms/immigration authorities in some countries may view the possession of a Document of Identity in lieu of a passport with suspicion and consequently delay or harass the bearer at entry points; and
  • should customs officers decide to conduct a body search there is a very real risk of embarressment to the bearer.
If you agree to be issued with an Australian Document of Identity could you please sign and return the enclosed acknowledgement as soon as possible etc etc etc

Yours Sincerely,
Ross Tysoe,
Assistant Secretary
Passport Client Service Branch

I'll be doing that straight away. Now, I actually don't need a DOI at this point, because Immigration granted me an Australian Declaratory Visa, good for 5 years, and with my UK passport I'm not subject to the 3-year DOI's strictures. Nonetheless... I wish to set a firm precedent. A precedent stating that for Transgendered people, the DOI really is a semi-passport, and that this situation is distinguished from VAK and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade [2002] AATA 588 (11 July 2002). That the circumstances are not the same as the general ones, and that to paraphrase Miss S A Forgie Deputy President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, "It (The DOI) should be issued in terms that would permit freedom of travel that equates with a passport for a shorter period of time.".

There's still some work to be done: why should people born overseas have to be unmarried if they are to get a new passport? But that is for the long term, and another ... negotiation (I only fight when I'm cornered). Right now, the situation is discriminatory, but if this precedent is set, it can be lived with as a reasonable, and even arguably humane, compromise. It's Discrimination - but it's not blatant Persecution.

If a precedent is set, and in the general case, transgendered people will always be offered an unrestricted 3-year DOI as an alternative to a misgendered passport.... then it's a victory. Not mine though. One for Common Sense, and one for the Australian Passport Office, who will no longer look like absolute Dills.

Thursday 5 October 2006

Now This is Cool!

Curtsy to MaddBlog , from Science Daily :
In the submicroscopic world -- the domain of elementary particles and individual atoms -- things behave in the strange, counter-intuitive fashion governed by the principles of quantum mechanics. Nothing (or so it seems) like our macroscopic world -- or even the microscopic world of cells or bacteria or dust particles -- where Newton's much more reasonable laws keep things sensibly ordered.

The problem comes in finding the dividing line between the two worlds -- or even in establishing that such a line exists. To that end, Keith Schwab, associate professor of physics who moved to Cornell this year from the National Security Agency, and colleagues have created a device that approaches this quantum mechanical limit at the largest length-scale to date.

And surprisingly, the research also has shown how researchers can lower the temperature of an object -- just by watching it.

The results, which could have applications in quantum computing, cooling engineering and more, appear in the Sept. 14 issue of the journal Nature.
According to the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, the precision of simultaneous measurements of position and velocity of a particle is limited by a quantifiable amount. Schwab and his colleagues were able to get closer than ever to that theoretical limit with their measurements, demonstrating as well a phenomenon called back-action, by which the act of observing something actually gives it a nudge of momentum.

"We made measurements of position that are so intense -- so strongly coupled -- that by looking at it we can make it move," said Schwab. "Quantum mechanics requires that you cannot make a measurement of something and not perturb it. We're doing measurements that are very close to the uncertainty principle; and we can couple so strongly that by measuring the position we can see the thing move."

The device, while undeniably small, is -- at about ten thousand billion atoms -- vastly bigger than the typical quantum world of elementary particles.

Still, while that result was unprecedented, it had been predicted by theory. But the second observation was a surprise: By applying certain voltages to the transistor, the researchers saw the system's temperature decrease.

"By looking at it you cannot only make it move; you can pull energy out of it," said Schwab. "And the numbers suggest, if we were to keep going on with this work, we would be able to cool this thing very cold. Much colder than we could if we just had this big refrigerator."

The mechanism behind the cooling is analogous to a process called optical or Doppler cooling, which allows atomic physicists to cool atomic vapor with a red laser. This is the first time the phenomenon has been observed in a condensed matter context.
Schwab hasn't decided if he'll pursue the cooling project. More interesting, he says, is the task of figuring out the bigger problem of quantum mechanics: whether it holds true in the macroscopic world; and if not, where the system breaks down.

For that he's focusing on another principle of quantum mechanics -- the superposition principle -- which holds that a particle can simultaneously be in two places.

"We're trying to make a mechanical device be in two places at one time. What's really neat is it looks like we should be able to do it," he said. "The hope, the dream, the fantasy is that we get that superposition and start making bigger devices and find the breakdown."

For more on the related Zeno Effect, see a previous post on the subject

Just as weirdly, and also via Maddblog, this from PhysOrg.com :
With a variation on the famous double-slit experiment of quantum mechanics, scientists Yves Couder and Emmanuel Fort from the University of Paris 7 are rewriting the textbooks. Their accomplishment, however, has less to do with quantum mechanics than with an observation once considered experimentally impossible: the wave-particle double nature of a macroscopic object (an oil droplet and its associated surface wave).

he droplet, which is about 1mm (10 million times larger than an atom), is also one million times larger than the second largest object--a 2-nm molecule called a buckyball--whose wave-particle duality was observed in 2003.

“The interest of our result comes from the fact that we observe single particle diffraction and interference with a classical system,” Couder told PhysOrg.com. “This phenomenon was thought to be reserved to the quantum scale.”

Although there is no specific dividing line between the quantum and macroscopic scales, an object larger than an atom generally has much too small a wavelength to be detected. Wave-particle duality, one disturbing chapter of quantum mechanics, means that all objects (quantum and macroscopic) sometimes behave like waves and show interference, and other times like particles--objects that have mass and obey conservation laws. Duality, though strange, could explain why objects seem to be in two places at the same time and communicate instantaneously across distances. These abilities, to scientists, would be even more difficult to reckon with than wave-particle duality, which is accepted as an "interpretation" of the world rather than a literal description.
While the scientists observed that each droplet goes through only one slit, the associated wave travels through both slits, with the wave interferences determining the walker’s trajectory. When creating a histogram based on the walkers’ deviations, the scientists found that the graph highly resembled that of a plane wave. In other words, this interference of the waves generated both individual uncertainty and statistical determinism in the trajectories of the material particles formed by the drops.

Wednesday 4 October 2006

Outgoing Mail

As opposed to Outgoing male I suppose...

Another letter to some Politicians. These ones involved in actively lobbying for a comprehensive anti-discrimination Act.

Zoe Ellen Brain
[address 1]
[address 2]

Kevin Rudd MP
Nicola Roxon MP

3rd October 2006

Dear Mr Rudd,

I wish to bring to your attention the very real problems faced by Transsexual people wishing to travel overseas.

The problem is caused by the explanatory notes to the Australian Passports Determination 2005*, which states (with no reason given) that it is "unneccessary or undesirable" to give Trangendered people passports.

By the explanatory notes, the following people are to be treated equally:

* Australian Citizens who cannot be issued a passport due to an outstanding arrest warrant, or being suspected of passport trafficking for having "lost" so many
* Australian Citizens who are Transgendered
* Australian Citizens being deported, repatriated or extradited
* Australian Citizens whose travel the minister believes should be restricted

The effective definition of "Transgendered" by the Australian Passport Office includes everyone who has not had their Australian Birth certificate altered, all post-operative people who are married, all people whose medical health or financial status precludes surgery, and many people who are Intersexed.

Such people may be granted a Document of Identity, good for one journey, but only if they apply in their originally registered gender, and can find a guarantor to swear that this is their "actual" gender. This is impossible for some Intersexed people, and for those whose medical history has been kept secret.

By caselaw**, a DOI will only be issued for "good reasons" such as to get neccessary surgery or to allow travel back to Australia to answer an arrest warrant. It will not be granted for business purposes, for example. I required multiple re-entry to Australia to attend Academic conferences necessary for my PhD (a fact attested to in writing by my PhD supervisor), but was told this would not be granted. Exceptions to this general case - those travelling to Norfolk Island, and those unable to obtain a Commonwealth passport - are explicitly stated in the explanatory notes. All the rest - wanted suspects, deportees, extradited criminals, people refused a passport due to security considerations or suspected passport traffickers, and Transsexuals - are treated the same way.

In my own case, I was unable to get a DOI anyway because of my medical condition - medically I'm female, according to Medicare Australia, despite the UK "boy" birth certificate, so could not apply as a male. To apply for a DOI, I would have to purjure myself, and leave both myself and my guarantor open to prosecution (based on the medical evidence) under the Australian Passports Act 2005***, or conversely, under the Foreign Passports (Law Enforcement and Security) Act 2005****, as my UK passport states that I'm Female.

As a Dual UK/Australian national, I was able to leave Australia any time I liked, but not able to return to my family due to the APO's travel restrictions. As I require surgery of a type only available overseas, I was to be effectively exiled from Australia, not despite, but because of, my Australian Citizenship. As an Australian Citizen, I don't qualify for a re-entry visa on my UK passport, unlike permanent residents.

I applied for an Australian passport on June 4th 2006, well before the scheduled date of surgery on November 15th 2006, and still don't have one. Not only that, but I've been informed in correspondence with the Commonwealth Ombudsman that no appealable decision has been made. A passport hasn't been refused (a decision I could appeal through the AAT) - they just won't issue one.

A phonecall from a representative of the APO made it quite clear : in order to get any form of Australian Passport, I would have to divorce. The exact words were "Under the Marriage Act, we can't have people who are married changing their gender". The APO is in possession of advice directly contradicting that assertion from the Federal Attorney General, advice they have chosen to ignore.

Ironically, for the purposes of the Marriage Act 1961*****, my UK passport showing a Female Gender is adequate to verify my Identity for the purposes of marriage.

Fortunately, the Department of Immigration and Indigenous Affairs staff were horrified when they saw the correspondence from the APO. They have gone out of their way to help, issuing me both with a new Citizenship Certificate (which was ignored by the APO) based on the medical evidence, and at the last moment with a rare emergency administrative document which will allow me back in the country. I was lucky - most people would not have this loophole to turn to.

Perhaps the original intent was to allow Transgendered people - including fulltime crossdressers - an unrestricted "gender-neutral" travel document (albeit one not recognised by many countries) as an option, as an alternative to a passport showing a gender inconsistent with their appearance. The actual practice is that many transsexual Australian Citizens are now forbidden to travel overseas. Other transsexual Australian Citizens are merely forbidden to return. Unbelievable, isn't it? But I have the evidence in writing, and the explanatory notes to the Australian passports determination 2005 are available for all to see. I also kept an online diary, a weblog******, of events as they happened.

Transgendered people - especially Transsexuals - are subject to harrassment, even violence. If Transsexuals have their medical condition treated, they face the loss of family, of income, of friends. All too often their difficulties seem insurmountable, they give up, and lose their lives instead. Usually the prejudice they face is covert, hidden and "plausibly deniable". It's unusual and dismaying that the law of the land overtly and unashamedly singles them out for blatant persecution here. This must not stand. It is unjust. It is unfair. It is Un-Australian.

Please put and end to it, and as soon as possible.

Yours Sincerely,
Zoe Ellen Brain BSc MInfoTech(Distinction)


* Australian Passports Determination 2005 Explanatory Notes Section 6.3 para 89

** VAK and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade [2002] AATA 588 (11 July 2002)

*** Australian Passports Act 2005 Division 2 Section 29 Making false or misleading statements in relation to Australian travel document applications

**** Foreign Passports (Law Enforcement and Security) Act 2005 Part 3 Section 18 Making false or misleading statements in relation to foreign travel document applications

***** Marriage Act 1961Division 2 Section 42.(1).b.(iii)

****** http://aebrain.blogspot.com/2006/09/great-passport-fiasco-summarised.html

And after reading Petro Georgiou's Speech about putting the Liberal back into the Liberal Party, a copy to him too. I've voted Liberal since I was 18. We'll see if the Liberal party can return to its roots. Well, Hope springs eternal in the human breast. And now I have two of those, at last!

Tuesday 3 October 2006

Perspective, Revisited

From the Jawa Report :
Recently, I was creeped out by this supernova. Detected Feb. 18 by Swift, a satellite launched to look for gamma-ray bursts, the exploding star already was the 24th supernova discovered at that early point in 2006. As instruments improve, exploding stars appear more common than cosmologists had expected, and that's not the best news we might have heard. Coded GRB 060218, this star detonation began as a gamma-ray burst that lasted 33 minutes -- absolutely stunning because previous gamma-ray bursts from space have lasted a few seconds at the most. The gamma rays came from 470 million light-years away. That was discomfiting because strong gamma-ray bursts usually emanate from what astronomers call the "deep field," billions of light-years distant and thus billions of years back in the past. A distance of 470 million light-years means the GRB 060218 supernova happened 470 million years ago. That is ancient by human reckoning, but many cosmologists had been assuming the kind of extremely massive detonations thought to cause strong gamma-ray busts occurred only in the misty eons immediately after the Big Bang. The working assumption was that since life appeared on Earth, there had been no stellar mega-explosion. Now we know there has.
...had GRB 060218 happened in our galaxy, life on Earth would have ended Feb. 18.

Apart from some lithophillic bacteria, perhaps.

470 million LY is not just "not in the furthermost corners of the Universe", it's not that far from the local galactic cluster, which stretches for 10 million LY. Just outside the Virgo Sipercluster in fact. That's the one we're in.

Odds are, conditions within a given Supercluster are fairly uniform, in terms of probablilities of Gamma Ray Bursts like this. A GRB within a Galaxy presses the "reset" button over less than a million years, wiping out all complex life within the whole Galaxy as the Gamma rays propagate outwards.

Puts little problems like Al Qaeda, and trivialities such as minority persecution in perspective, doesn't it?

Monday 2 October 2006

A Disturbing Image

I know it's supposed to be humourous. Nonetheless, this altered comic front cover leaves me with some very disturbing feelings.

Firstly, that if it did happen to a boy, it would probably kill him. The looks are one thing, it's the thinking process that's important (trust me). Guys who are born in female bodies have it hard enough. Many don't make it, but at least they don't have it happening suddenly, they have time to get used to the idea - and time to suffer too. Yes, there's the whole Sex thing too, but if he were as screwed up hormonally as that, sex of any kind is probably the last thing on his mind. Even if he were Gay - there's a massive difference between being a Gay Male and a Straight Female. Many in the GLB activist groups don't understand that TS women aren't some form of Gay Male, and TS men aren't Lesbians either.

Secondly, although the condition 5-alpha-reductase deficiency (5ARD) can cause little girls to grow up into big boys, the reverse is much rarer. Yet there seems to be something of an "urban legend" status about it - maybe it's a part of male sexuality (something I've never understood), or maybe it happens more often than the literature says it does. Probably with fatal results, from purely physiological considerations, let alone psychological ones.

Thirdly - why did it have to happen when I was 47, and not 17? And why couldn't I have ended up looking like that? Grrrrrr. Never mind, considering my skeletal structure at age 10, it was not to be anyway. I always was thickset, "elfin" was never a possibility.

Fourth - they got the whispers in the background right. Heck, it was difficult enough for me, surrounded by mature, educated adults. For teenage transitioners, it must be far worse, at least, in some societies. In others, where there's a bit more knowledge and tolerance than there was when I was growing up, it might be easier. But it would never be easy. I've seen far too many kids lives made hell by parents who not just don't understand, they won't understand, won't even look at the evidence. It's too embarressing and upsetting to their world-view.

A bit like my reaction to this picture.

You know what? I'm awfully lucky I had CNI - Congenital Neurological Intersex AKA Transsexuality. If I hadn't... it doesn't bear thinking about. For most people, being TS is a curse. For me, it was a literal life-saver. Gosh! (Zoe for the nth time thanks her lucky stars)

Sunday 1 October 2006

Good News For Some

From The Times :
Womb transplants may be possible within two years, giving hope to women unable to have children, doctors claimed yesterday.

London-based researchers, working with medical teams in New York and Budapest, have developed a technique for providing a transplanted womb with a reliable blood supply. Women born without a uterus or who have undergone an emergency hysterectomy would be among those to benefit from the procedure.

The transplant would be temporary, doctors being reluctant to continue giving a patient drugs to help the body to fight rejection of the womb. That could leave the woman two to three years to conceive and carry a baby or babies before the womb was removed.

This will certainly benefit many Intersexed women with vaginal dysgenesis and other conditions where they have ovaries, but not the complete reproductive system. It will also benefit many other women who have had to have hysterectomies which have left their ovaries intact.

Not good for women like me though. Not yet. But perhaps, one day, those who are now transitioning in their teens might just possibly be able to become biological mothers.

It means a lot to us, you see.

Meanwhile, I look at my son Andrew, now fast asleep, and am content. Content? I'm positively ecstatic! Though I think if we'd had to adopt, I'd feel just the same. There's more to motherhood than pregnancy.

Would have been nice though... but was not to be. Guess I'm just greedy.