Friday 30 January 2009

My Childhood Role Model

What can I say? I had just turned 10.

And as it turned out, I think my life has been even more interesting.

Thursday 29 January 2009

Wednesday 28 January 2009

The ACLU vs the state of Illinois

From a previous post:
The other issue that has been busy percolating through my brain has been the legal hoops that must be jumped through in the US state of Illinois regarding changing Birth Certificates.

First, for the situation to be corrected, the person concerned must have had sufficient genital reconstruction surgery, and of the right type. Now while that's arguably a problem, especially for Intersexed people, and those whose medical conditions preclude such surgery, let's take it as read that it's reasonable. It's certainly not wholly unreasonable.

Except... that the surgery isn't what's important. What is important is who performs it, not what is done. The surgeon must be one registered in the US to practice medicine. Certification of what was done by a US doctor isn't sufficient. This was introduced as the result of a deliberately fraudulent certification by one US doctor, once, a matter of compassion. Ok, so maybe that might be seen as reasonable, though surely certification by multiple US doctors would be a better solution.

Except... from a support group I'm on, for patients of the surgeon I went to...
Well, I have discussed the below situation with legal counsel and the Illinois law is quite clear. An affidavit from another physician does not meet the law's requirements. I have posted a file in the file section of what I'm doing next.

Here are the outcomes of my research:

Upon submission of the application for Birth Certificate Change for the state of Illinois an investigator is assigned to research each application and to confirm the affidavits are valid. In my case, even getting Dr. Suporn licensed in Michigan would not meet the requirements because he would not have been licensed in a state within the United States at the time my surgery was performed.

So what sex a person is, who they are allowed to marry, is not determined by the reality of their body: it's not determined by who performed the surgery even: it depends on what, who, and when. And all to stop "same sex marriage".

Whisky Tango Foxtrot?

At some point, you have to realise that you're playing a game by someone else's rules, a game where things like compassion, rationality, even sanity have no place. A game where the rules can be changed by the enemy at whim, where there really are no rules, no consistency, just pure irrational spite.
Well, it's taken some time, but now the ACLU has taken notice. From the Chicago Tribune :
In August 2007, a clerk and her supervisor told Rothkopf, who was born in Dixon, Ill., that the birth certificate couldn't be changed because she had planned to have her sex reassignment surgery outside the United States. On Tuesday, Rothkopf, 36, and Chicago resident Victoria "Tori" Kirk, both of whom had their sex-change surgeries in Thailand, sued the State of Illinois.

Their lawsuit, filed by attorneys for the American Civil Liberties Union, called the denials a violation of state law and asked a judge to order that their birth certificates be changed.

"It could create significant problems for me in the future," Kirk said Tuesday at a news conference. "A document that says I am male puts me at risk of embarrassment, harassment and possibly even physical violence."

The two women said they chose to undergo procedures in Thailand because they felt the one-step surgery offered there would be medically safer. Both women have been able to change the gender on their driver's licenses, passports and Social Security cards.
From the Chicago Sun-Times :
Officials with the Illinois Department of Public Health -- which encompasses the Vital Records division -- say their hands are tied.

"We are following the Vital Records Act, and we are simply enforcing that," said department spokeswoman Melaney Arnold. "The part that we are particularly looking at is the definition of physician. Physician means a person licensed to practice medicine in Illinois or any other state."

As in, one of the United States.
Joel Ginsberg, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, estimates that between 1,600 and 2,000 patients undergo major gender-related surgeries each year.

"Given that many if not most health plans will not reimburse for medically necessary transgender surgery procedures, many transgender people find it necessary to leave the country in order to get the services they need," Ginsberg said. "So it's both illogical and unfair to not allow people to change their legal documentation to reflect the reality about their bodies and their condition."
The Vital Records act requires that a physician (ie someone registered to practice in the USA) certifies that the operation has been performed. Not that they themselves have performed it. But the registry office only provides a form requiring the surgeon to attest to it, not a US physician. Moreover, they even require that the surgeon be registered in the USA at the time of the operation, and not at the time of attestation. Without such a form, they will not change the birth certificate, regardless of what the original law may say. They have a Policy.

So two people who both had the same procedures from the same overseas surgeon are of different sexes, depending on when the surgeon became registered to practice in the US:- as Dr Brassard of Canada did specifically to avoid this issue for his many patients from Illinois.

It's those who are transsexual who have a "serious mental disorder" according to the DSM-IV, not the regulatory authorities. Well, one of us does, that's for sure, because in my view, this situation is utterly bonkers. Inhuman and cruel too.

Tuesday 27 January 2009

Signs of Disrespect

From Bilerico:
A December 28 crime report on detailing the murder of a transgender woman and her boyfriend in Broad Ripple, Indiana used the incorrect name, the wrong pronouns and described the transgender victim's life in a generally offensive manner.

Taysia Elzy a transgender woman, and her boyfriend Michael Hunt were found murdered in their home on December 26. The article, "Family of murder victim speaks out," uses a male name to describe Taysia and uses male pronouns and identifiers throughout the piece. The story also repeats a police statement with the problematic phrase, "alternative lifestyle," neglecting to put quotes around it.

GLAAD called and e-mailed crime reporter Steve Jefferson and offered extensive resources for correcting the faulty coverage. The story clearly violates Associated Press style guidelines which state, "Use the pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth. If that preference is not expressed, use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly."

Instead of taking our advice the reporter rebuffed our educational efforts saying in an email, "I did not do this story based on lifestyle." Jefferson furthered, "Our goal is to catch the killer- NOT promote your cause." He also said he did not use female pronouns because he said the transgender victim "was NOT post-op."
And style-guides are for other people...

Of course it's not the first example. Or the second, or third, or fourth... it happens more often than not, though the stories usually get corrected.

But it could be worse, and in Guatamala, it is.
López is the director of a prominent organization that works to protect the rights of transgendered sex workers in Guatemala and he has spent many years advocating for them. He worked closely with the victim and sought police protection for her shortly before the attack. He later submitted complaints about police misconduct against sex workers, shortly before the arrest warrant against him was issued.
They arrested him as an attempted murder suspect. Because who else would have phoned the police reporting the attack he witnessed?
The charges: In a news brief, La Hora reports that the Guatemalan Public Ministry released an arrest warrant against López for "his alleged participation in the attack against a transgender on July 4th in Zone 1."

According to Telediaro 3, the Public Ministry alleges that López was among a group of people who beat up a transgender woman so badly that her arms almost had to be amputated.

Prensa Libre, on the other hand, seems to get the facts wrong in reporting that López was accused of murder against a transgender woman found dead on a public street in June of 2008.

López says it's a government vendetta: All three papers report that López surrendered yesterday and defended himself before the media as he made his way into the courthouse.

"As he indicated before entering the courthouse, [López said] he is being pressured by the National Civil Police (PNC) and the Public Ministry (MP), based on accusations he made last September that agents from both institutions attacked six homosexuals", says Telediario 3.

Prensa Libre says that he admitted that there had been a attack against transgender individuals on the date mentioned by the authorities but argues that he was among those who called the authorities to alert them to the attacks (he says he plans to use the phone records as roof of his innocence).
But it occurs to me that maybe that's not the worst. The worst is not that we constantly have to get journalists to report our murders with respect, that it's almost a ritual now. The worst is that we have gotten too used to the fact that "well, of course a couple of us are murdered every month". So much so that our outrage is not at the murders any more, but at the disrespect shown for the victims by journalists.

Monday 26 January 2009

If Houses were built like Software...

...then the first woodpecker to come along would destroy civilisation.

Of course in Russia, sometimes the houses are built the way most software is. A reasonable foundation (though it might need some fixing-up) but with more and more additional stuff added in that was never envisaged in the original design, so you end up with something like this...

This from the excellent pictorial site, English Russia, which also has pictures of the first Russian Tank:

And what looks like a Jetline/Zeppelin hybrid, but is actually a high-volume transport for space boosters.

Saturday 24 January 2009

Note to Self

Since my PhD research involves using supercomputers to evolve genetic algorithms...

Just make sure you don't have it maximize instead of minimize.

Ah. Good point.

Friday 23 January 2009

A Letter from the Attorney-General

Not addressed to me - but to Kathy Noble, one of the more active members of the TS community here in Australia. And incidentally, another woman whose body changed under her, though in her case, we have a good medical explanation as to why.
You queried how the Australia Government's same-sex reforms affect transgender individuals who remain married after surgery. As you may be aware, the same-sex reforms amend 84 Commonwealth laws to remove discrimination against same-sex de facto couples and their families from a wide range of Commonwealth laws and programs.

While the reforms do not expressly address the sex or gender diversity of specific individuals, they ensure that same-sex de facto couples and their families are recognised and have the same entitlements as opposite-sex de facto couples. A transgender individual who remains married after surgery will not be deemed to be no longer married as a result of the reforms. The effect of the reforms is that such an individual will receive the same treatment regardless of whether they are considered to be a member of a same-sex or opposite-sex couple.
Before these reforms, the marriage remained, but legally was a hollow shell, with no meaning regrading inheritance, or superannuation, or pensions, or even child custody. Married, but in terms of recognition outside the Family Court, legal strangers.

Now the legal substance has been restored. The love, of course, that remained, though now sisterly rather than marital. Our little boy has no complaints - both his parents love each other, and both his parents love him. Few at school believe that his Daddy is a girl, but that's no big drama for him. Other children have two Mommies, and that's nearly the same, so he doesn't feel alone.

Thursday 22 January 2009

Wednesday 21 January 2009

China Lunar Orbit by 2016 Possible

From FlightGlobal:
China could attempt a manned circumlunar flight in 2015, says outgoing NASA administrator Michael Griffin.

Griffin, a George Bush appointee whose job ended upon Barack Obama's inauguration, was addressing NASA employees and was asked about the likelihood of the Chinese going to the Moon - and whether that could encourage the US government to increase NASA's funding.

Declining to comment on agency funding, Griffin said he could envisage a Chinese Moon mission by 2016 that uses the country's new Arianespace Ariane 5-like Long March 5 rocket in a double-launch scenario. This would see China send a manned Shenzhou spacecraft with an improved lunar return-capable heatshield and an Earth departure stage into low Earth orbit on separate rockets. They would dock in LEO and the Earth departure stage would send the Shenzhou round the Moon.
That's what they're going to do. But not necessarily by 2016. 2026, maybe. 2036, certainly, and routinely with the infrastructure they're developing. Before then though, they really want to do a lot of robot exploration, in order to establish the best framework for permanent colonisation.

The idea of multiple launches with rendezvous in Earth Orbit is the obvious solution, and is better for a long-term development effort than the "everything on one stack" solution used by the US in the late 60's and early 70's. Incremental development, building refueling facilities for Earth-Lunar transit tugs on regular resupply missions, and ferrying construction materials. That will take time, but time is something they have plenty of now.

There's no rush, after all. The USA is the only country that has had the technical capability to do this in the past, and they lost it. They could get it back again, of course, but the political will is no longer there.

From Transterrestrial Musings :
DOE receives $43.9 Billion (for energy related projects.)

NIH(National Institutes of Health) receives $4.6 Billion.

National Telecommunications & Information Administration receives $3.8 Billion.

NSF(National Science Foundation) receives $2.5 Billion.

NOAA(National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) receives $1 Billion.

NASA receives $600 million.

NIST(National Institute of Standards and Technology) receives $500 million.
The NIST stimulus package of $500M is 74% of its FY2009 budget request.
Founded in 1901, NIST is a non-regulatory federal agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce. NIST's mission is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.

It's not quite true to say that research on spaceflight is only marginally more important to the new administration than monitoring the quality of shop scales at the supermarket checkout - NIST does other work too, on laboratory standards and the like. But it's more true than not. Their budget got nearly doubled, and other Federal Administrations received billions, whereas NASA got a fraction of what would be needed to make a difference.

Another 8 years of standing still.

As I wrote earlier:
Will there even be a US Manned space programme under the new administration? Or will it be expanded into a great money-guzzling hole as part of an "economic stimulus package" to save jobs (and votes..) in Florida?
Now we know. Just enough increase to keep the existing jobs, or most of them anyway. Not enough to make a difference.

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Today's Battles

At Tampa Bay Online, more of the same in the "Bathroom Issue". It's incredible how much damage just one hysterical scare campaign will do.

And on Alchua Voter Guide.
1. Where do you stand on the Transgender bathroom ordinance?

Robert Krames: I oppose this ordinance for the obvious safety concerns raised by our citizens. The ordinance also adds additional burdens to our already struggling local businesses.

2. Do you think a compromise could have been reached? If so, what would you offer?

Robert Krames: Yes I do. The current City Commission constantly reminds us that this ordinance is meant to protect individuals from being discriminated against when attempting to buy a house or get a job. If that really was all this ordinance did, I would not be against it.

Followup:When I say compromise, I mean, do you have any suggestions about how to protect the rights of transgendered persons who have doctors orders to start living as their new sex as part of the process of undergoing sex change? This question was raised by the Mayor on the night the measure was approved.
No answer from Gainesville City Commission candidate Robert Krames on that one as yet. And "obvious safety concerns"? *SIGH* It's worth remembering that all the "Transgender Bathroom Ordinance" does is to add "Gender Identity" to the list of groups given some civil rights protection. A list that includes the usual race, creed, colour, national origin etc. That's it.

Then a sensible issue, a genuine question from a Sergeant in the US Army who wonders what the heck the implications of allowing Transgendered people to serve would be. I answered at length - the comment is awaiting moderation, but here's the gist. In reply to
Where do we draw the moral line in the sand when it comes to acceptable behavior? How, as a First Sergeant, do I deal with a male Soldier who dresses like a female? Which uniform do I issue him/her? Does a transgendered Soldier get graded on the male APFT standards or the female APFT standards?...
When I do an in-ranks inspection, how do I deal with a male Soldier showing up in a skirt and pumps? Which latrine does he/she use? Where do I put them in the barracks? Can a transgendered female who became a male go into the Infantry Branch? Armor? Other areas that deny women to serve?
I answered simply:
What do you do with a man who dresses as a woman? Refer him to a medic. He's nuts.

What do you do with a woman who looks like a man? Refer her to a medic. She's transsexual.

What do you do with a woman who *used* to look like a man? Treat her as you would any other female soldier. After 2 years of hormones and surgery, she won't be any different from other women in terms of physical capabilities.
I left aside some of the more fantastic flights of fancy, involving sheep etc. If it's not the bathrooms, it's the bestiality.

That was the Fantasy : here's the Reality. Another post from a support site I'm on.
At just barely 21, I was jumped by two or three guys in the evening as I walked away from a bus stop, where I had gotten off. I was about half a mile from my apartment that was over a family friends garage.

I don't remember much, excepted something hitting me from behind, and I hit the ground.
I remember going down and everything was fuzzy and muddled.

The end results were this:
A smashed in skull and face, with severe damage to my left eye socket and cheek bone. The left eye suffered optic nerve damage, that left me with a permanent blurred vision in it.
The right temple was shattered and the upper part of my skull was seriously cracked and was swelling.
My jaw was cracked in half at the chin, at I had a molar knocked out. All of my front teeth were push in. The left side of my jaw was broken at the rear.
I had multiple broken ribs,with a punctured lung,and a smashed dislocated left shoulder. Which has never healed correctly.
My pelvic bone was broken into pieces.
The right hip bone socket and leg bone had been damaged, leaving me with a slight limp today.
I was slashed multiple times across the back, sides, thighs.
I had been savagely gang raped, and my anus was torn and bleeding profusely. The colon was torn too.

I somehow had crawled out the drainage culvert, and up onto the sidewalk where I collapsed. How I managed it, I'll never know.
A passing motorist saw this heap in the grass between the street and the sidewalk, and stopped to investigate. What he found horrified him. He called 911. Others stopped to help I am told.
I was rushed to a hospital about 3 miles away. The EMS people, told the police I wouldn't make it. I was in a coma. I had stopped breathing twice on the way there, and had lost to much blood.
I was rushed into a emergency surgery room, and prepped for surgery to try and save me. When they took my ripped up dress off, then they saw it. I wasn't a female, and they immediately thought I was a cross dresser. The staff dilly dallied a while until the friends I was staying with came rushing in and raised Holy Toledo with them. Then they changed their tune, and began to work on me.
It is my understanding, that when the staff told the police about my gender, they had a good laugh about it. My parents had been notified and arrived the next day. Then the real Hells Fury started once my mother and sister were there.

I was in emergency surgery for over 3 hours just to stabilize me. I actually flat lined multiple times. It was touch and go for the next 48 hours.
I would face many more surgeries to actually replace and repair everything that had been damaged.

My mom, my sister, and my and their friends cried all night long.
No one thought I'd survive. I remained in the coma for three weeks.When I started to come out the initial coma, they induced a second one. They felt my mind wouldn't have been able to handle it then.
The police told my mother and sister, that I was raped and the guys who did it, tried to murder me. They used some kind of heavy blunt objects,plus they mercilessly stomped and kicked me, and they cut, stabbed and slashed me over and over.

My sister has told me that I looked a war casualty...and had more lines running in and out of me, than she thought would be feasible.

Technically I had been dead...and I had been brought back to life.

The police think that either the attackers knew me, and stalked me, or it was random, and they freaked when they didn't find a vagina. However my mouth and anus were violated, because tests indicated thus. The perpetrators were never found or arrested.

It took over 25 total surgeries; to reconstruct my face, putting in stainless steel plates/plastic and assorted parts, reset my front teeth, try to save my left eye vision that never did come back right,repair the cheek bone with a plastic one, replace my pelvic bone with Stainless and Nylon, steel pin my thigh socket, and reattaching the femur to the socket,repairing my left lung, and one plastic surgery after the other for over two years. I was in the hospital for almost three months, and then bed ridden at home for another two.
I have scar lines all over my back,sides, and legs where I had been sutured, and the faint scars from surgeries. Today, I won't wear a two piece bathing suit.
I have a slight speech lisp and cannot remember the attack at all. After I came out my my 2nd induced coma, I thought I had been hit by the bus somehow.

When my mom and sister held my hand crying, telling me what had happened, I was so shocked, that I passed out. All the mirrors in my hospital room had been removed for my own good. I didn't see myself for a long time. I could feel all the braces and heavy bandages on me, and I hurt something awful, unless the nurse came in, then she open the drip line and I'd drift off..finally I was released, and was taken home.

I didn't leave the house for months, and everyone constantly kept an eye on me.
I wouldn't and couldn't be alone for almost a year. I was scared to death of the dark. I never knew how many loving friends and family I had, until I came home to convalesce. The out pouring of love was incredible. It took more than 4 years to get everything repaired as best as it could be. I was off hormones for a year and half, in the beginning, then was allowed to go back on them. I had lost a lot of shape and weight.

{ the damaged/replaced pelvic stirrup, and the finely cracked hips bones around the repair, nearly held me back from SRS. There was great concern about whether or not I'd ever be able to have sex, and if I broke it again, I might lose my female genitalia from more surgeries. After many long physician conferences, they agreed to go ahead}

I wasn't as lucky as I thought I was...I have never taken it for granted since then. Today, I am almost never alone. Someone is always with me. The cost of this nearly life ending event, was over one hundred thousand dollars after all the bills were compiled. Insurances paid for about 80% of it, and my parents paid the rest.

It is a blessing now, to have a very protective husband, live in a private gated community, and have home security as well.

There really are very horrible people out there...I encountered them.
So pardon me if I don't take those hysterics screaming about perverts in the bathrooms (THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!!), or "drawing moral lines" terribly seriously. The matters here are for grown-ups.

I count my blessings, but I have to say that dealing with posts like that, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year... sometimes I'm a bit short with people expressing their genuine but misguided concerns, and for that I apologise. I make no apology though to those who manufacture concerns to get the donations coming in. Or so they can occupy positions of power in a populist movement. They're a tiny minority, but the harm they do is out of all proportion to their numbers.

But that gives us hope: for if such a tiny group of people can make a real difference in service of Evil - not Sin, not Error, but the genuine article - then what can a few on the other side do? We can Educate, we can bring attention to the facts, and we can counter hysteria with logic and compassion. How can we not win, eventually? Because the bulk of people, even those who are against us, are fundamentally decent human beings.

Monday 19 January 2009

Perversion (n)

Middle English, from Anglo-French purvertir, pervertir, from Latin pervertere to overturn, corrupt, pervert, from per- thoroughly + vertere to turn.

14th century

a: to cause to turn aside or away from what is good or true or morally right : corrupt
b: to cause to turn aside or away from what is generally done or accepted : misdirect
a: to divert to a wrong end or purpose : misuse
b: to twist the meaning or sense of : misinterpret
Mirriam-Webster Dictionary

Recently, the Gainesville (Florida) City Commission passed an ordinance that adds the words "gender identity" to a list of classes of people protected from discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodation and obtaining credit. Already covered in the ordinance are race, sex, sexual preference and religion.

The Perverts at the "Citizens for Good Public Policy" made a film about this, and here it is below:

These Perverts claim that
"As written, the ordinance allows any man (e.g., a drunken football fan or a sexual predator) to legally enter women’s restrooms, changing rooms, locker rooms, etc. Furthermore, he can only be questioned after the fact, and merely needs to claim he had an “inner sense of being” female at the time. This enables people with criminal intent to “scout” restrooms and other facilities for opportunity. Thus, the issue is public safety."
Except... that the only case remotely like this happened in Portland Oregon, and the accused didn't even bother offering up such a laughable defence. The Portland law in effect at the time has substantially the same wording as the Gainesville one. These Perverts have "twisted the sense and meaning" of the ordnance, as can be plainly seen by anyone who actually reads it.

Number of years such ordnances have been in force in other jurisdictions: 33.

Number of instances of attempts to use such ordnances being used as a defence: 0.

Number of admitted attempts to frame transsexuals by members of groups like this one dressing in drag : 1.

Those are the facts, and no amount of repeating a "Big Lie" in shriller and shriller voices can make them false.

The Perverts not only made an advertisement that verges on being paedophilic porn, but they also have both "turned away from what is good or true or morally right" by concealing the facts in order to oppress others. They have "diverted to a wrong end or purpose" the cinematographer's art, and their claims to "not fear or dislike transgender persons" are belied by their actions.

It does no good to engage in hyperbole or exaggeration when making one's case. But yes, these people are Perverts in several senses of the word. Now most of those opposing the ordnance are good and well-meaning people, who have made the mistake of trusting the "Thomas Moore Law Centre" and others who have blatantly lied to them. I can't blame them, these Perverts are outwardly respectable people. But I ask them to step back and think for a second: do they really believe that a City Commission would pass a "let men in the women's room" law, as it has been described by the Perverts? Does that seem remotely plausible? Sensible? In accordance with what they know of Reality? A reasonable interpretation of the ordnance itself? Or are they being taken for fools by professional liars who know how to manufacture an issue to keep the donations rolling in?

Listen to the Dog Whistling here:
7. So what is a transgender person supposed to do?

The Gender Identity Ordinance specifically addresses “gender identity disorder,” which is medically classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th. Edition (published by the American Psychiatric Association), as are other disorders like alcoholism and substance abuse.

As citizens concerned with public safety and public health, we ask ourselves the same question regarding sexual disorders that we would ask regarding substance disorders: Is it the role of civil government, at any level, either to provide help to individuals suffering from such disorders, or to “mainstream” disorders (i.e., make them socially normative) via legislation and the granting of special rights?

We believe the answer is “no” in both cases. Whether the issue is alcoholism, gender identity disorder, or some other medically classified disorder, we believe private treatment, not government intervention, is appropriate, and that it is beyond the proper scope of seven lone commissioners to redefine something as important as society’s moral boundaries. The people themselves should make that determination, which is why we have worked to bring the issue to a vote.

(Bear in mind that both the American Psychiatric Association and the Gainesville City Commission address the issue as “gender identity disorder.” The term is theirs, not ours.)
And comparing transsexuals to drug addicts and alcoholics is not meant to denigrate them. Of course not.
9. Surely you are aware that the “sexual orientation” provision of local civil rights law will be nullified if the Charter Amendment is approved. Isn’t that your real target?

No. CGPP’s goal is, and always has been, nullification of the Gender Identity Ordinance, and the restoration of good public policy in a city with a local “Government Gone Wild.” Unfortunately, the City Commission chose to draw the battle lines, and have since gotten caught in the crossfire of their own social agenda.

The sexual orientation provision in the code of ordinances has been law in Gainesville since 1998, and during that time none of the principal organizers of Citizens for Good Public Policy ever mounted opposition to it. However, the City Commission bound the two issues together when they passed the Gender Identity Ordinance, thus taking sexuality out of the private bedroom into the public restroom, thereby infringing the rights of thousands of local citizens.
Read that paragraph again. Then again. Then try to follow the logic. Now consider not the words, but the actual effects, of not just repealing the ordnance, but also protections based on sexual orientation as well.

Reflect on how difficult it would be if the only objective was to "protect the wimminfolk" to have a referendum on just the ordnance and nothing else. Or even to amend the ordnance to make sure that "transgender" is not meant to mean terrorists, merchant bankers, astronauts, or sexual offenders.

It's pure bafflegab. A Big Lie, that even a moment's thought and reflection would show to be totally absurd. A Perversion of the English language. So while much of the Rank and File of the opposition are merely gullible, those at the top are Perverts, and in more ways than one.

Of course I don't mean to compare the Perverts here with other Perverts who make movies about children and men entering restrooms with them. Any more than they mean to denigrate Transsexuals by lumping them in with Drug Addicts. But no less, either. If the shoe fits...

Sunday 18 January 2009

Today's Battles

What is the diffrence (sic)in male and female? That's a question asked at Yahoo Questions. Nice, simple, obvious... except it's none of those.
Sex can be determined on the basis of several biological criteria:
1. Genitalia - primary sex characteristics
2. Secondary sex characteristics
3. Endocrine (Hormonal) balance
4. Genes, either XX vs XY, or presence/absence of SrY complex
5. Neuroanatomy, sexually dimorphic development of the brain.

None of these are strict binaries though. They all have gradations with 2 distinct peaks, one for female, one for male, but some in the middle.

The Gender Binary is an excellent approximation, where all 5 criteria align 59 times out of 60. The difficulties begin when we try to make an approximation into an absolute: biologically, this is senseless.

Some common examples:

1. Kleinfelter syndrome, with neither 46xx nor 46xy but 47xxy chromosomes. Most are sterile males, some are infertile males, a very few are infertile masculinised females, and there's a handful of fertile females.

2. CAIS or "Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome" where the endocrine system is male, but a mutation in cellular receptors causes insensitivity to the male sex hormones. The women concerned have got underdeveloped female genitalia, male endocrinology, but all the rest is strongly female. Having insensitivity to testosterone makes them look very female indeed, and their neurology is very female too.

3. Transsexuality or "Harry Benjamin Syndrome", where the neurology is strongly cross-gendered and mismatches (most of) the rest, I say :most of" because about 10% have other mismatches too.

There are other, less common, conditions where the primary and secondary sex characteristics can naturally change, due to endocrinal and cellular receptor anomalies (5ARD and 17BHDD syndromes). Configuration at birth may not be the configuration after puberty. There's also a handful of cases where such changes are Idiopathic - they happen, but we haven't found the cause yet. IPSR "Idiopathic Partial Sex Reversal" is only 1 in several million though.

The subject is complex, I'm afraid. 59 times out of 60, it's easy. The other 1 in 60 can be very difficult, and neither "male" nor "female" may be accurate 1 time in 1000.
There's References of course.

Onto sport, and over at the Bleacher Report, another question: Under Which Category of Sport Should a Transgender Surgery Person Compete? The person asking the question knows her own lack of knowledge on the issue, and the question is a genuine request from someone seeking the truth. Her reply after I filled her in:
Zoe, thank you for sharing. It absolutely is an eye-opener. I never knew any of this information. It is tough to generalize as I understand from your commentary, and that it needs to be addressed from a case-to-case basis. While it might prove advantageous in some cases to have a GRS, there are bound to be disadvantages too...we cannot say which outweighs the other though.

Sport should embrace all and it should not have any sort of disparity, as in your case, if you ever wanted to be athlete, it should not make a difference to sport.

Thanks a lot for sharing your personal journey, means a lot to us.
It's comments like that that make this all worthwhile.

At the Indiana State University, an article on Psychiatry and the DSM-V controversy that, while respectful, completely misses the point, and is full of factual inaccuracy.
GID - Gender Identity Disorder - has been classified as a Disorder since DSM-III.

The debate is whether to remove it, as there's no evidence is that these people are mentally ill by the APA's own definition.

The evidence is that Transsexuality is a form of Intersex - a condition where the body is neither 100% male nor 100% female. In Transsexuality, or Harry Benjamin Syndrome, fMRI scans show that the brain, the neuro-anatomy, is cross-gendered. It's no more a "mental illness" than a cleft palate is.

But like a cleft palate, if untreated surgically, it can lead to intense persecution. And like a cleft palate, the terrible feeling of wrongness and insecurity can lead to depression, which *is* a psychological condition.

The difficult bit is going to be to move the diagnostic code from being a mental illness, to a physical one, and introducing a new subset of depression and other symptoms which result from the physical complaint - much as the depression an anxiety resultant from being raped has its own classification.

The current diagnostic code for GID is 302.85 by the way, and 302.6 when it occurs in childhood.

As for surgery being "no longer regarded as cosmetic", it isn't at the moment. The article even references the specialist professional association's Standards of Care. I'll quote from it:
"Sex reassignment is not "experimental," "investigational," "elective," "cosmetic," or optional in any meaningful sense."
This article deals with the subject sensitively, but appears to have completely missed the point about the disputation: we have on one side the endocrinologists, biologists, neuro-anatomists and some psychologists saying it doesn't belong in the new edition in light of the evidence gathered since 1996, and on the other some other psychologists who are defending their traditional turf because they don't believe the evidence is absolutely conclusive yet.
Finally, at the Rapid City Journal, a reply to the article "City could expand non-discrimination policy" by pointing out that they wouldn't exactly be Robinson Crusoe here. It's nothing particularly Avante-Garde.
Martinson doesn't believe the city would break new ground if it adopted the resolution. She said other cities have passed resolutions or ordinances addressing sexual orientation, though she didn't offer examples.

"I don't feel like we'd be doing something brand new, something scary. Other cities have done this without any consequences as far as insurance and liability. I don't think this resolution creates any special rights," Martinson said.
She didn't give examples. I did. The same list I mentioned in August last year. We lost that one, an unholy alliance of Muslim and Catholic clerics mobilised their constituencies to restore their rights to persecute. The Good Guys don't always win. Not initially.

Friday 16 January 2009

For Valour

In an ideal world, medals for gallantry would never have to be awarded. Every medal would be the result of some stuff-up somewhere. For the highest decorations, the stuff-up must be of monumental proportions.

In an ideal world, resources are limitless. There's always enough troops, tanks, guns, air support to make sure any enemy that appears will be instantly dealt with. In an ideal world, intelligence about the enemy is perfect: we know where he is, and in what strength, and with what capabilities.

But then, in an ideal world, there'd be no need for warfare.

In reality, no battle-plan ever survives contact with the enemy. In reality, no matter how good the planning, how adequate the resources seem to be, sometimes the enemy does not co-operate. And no matter how careful you are, sometimes stuff-ups, even stuff-ups of monumental proportions, happen. That is when Men, and Women too, may be called upon to preform acts of uncommon bravery. Acts which they know full well may mean their chances of survival are nil. Most such medals are awarded posthumously.

From The Australian :
Trooper Donaldson was serving with the SAS in Oruzgan in Afghanistan on September 2 last year when his unit was hit by an ambush, wounding nine Australians.

He was awarded the Victoria Cross for “most conspicuous acts of gallantry in a circumstance of great peril”, according to the citation.

“During a prolonged and effective enemy ambush on numerous occasions he deliberately drew the enemy’s fire in order to allow wounded soldiers to be moved to safety.

“As the battle raged around him he saw that a coalition force interpreter was lying motionless on exposed ground.

“With complete disregard for his own safety, on his initiative and alone, Trooper Donaldson ran back 80 metres across exposed ground to rescue the interpreter and carry him back to vehicle.

“Trooper Donaldson then rejoined his patrol and continued to engage the enemy while remaining exposed to heavy enemy fire.”

His citation said he "displayed exceptional courage in circumstances of great peril" and saved the life of the interpreter.
"Greater Love Hath No Man...". But the motto of the SASR is "Who Dares, Wins", and sometimes, not often, but sometimes, they even get to survive too. Being confronted with someone like Trooper Donaldson on the other side is quite enough to give anyone the screaming heeby-jeebies. Sheer courage on one person's part can make them shoot carefully, in a disciplined and effective manner, no matter how many bullets are flying nearby. And the other side starts to panic as this guy appears to bear a charmed life, and is picking them off methodically, no matter how many bullets they spray in his direction. They have to spray, because if they pause to aim, he gets them first, in unhurried, professional 3-round bursts.

Such people are very, very, very scary to go up against. Such people really do risk their lives to help their mates, even mates who are from different countries.

From the Sydney Morning Herald :
The combined Afghan, United States and Australian convoy came under sustained machine-gun fire and attack from rocket-propelled grenades when it was ambushed in Oruzgan Province.

A Defence Force citation reports the coalition patrol suffered numerous casualties and "completely lost the initiative".

Early on, Trooper Donaldson engaged the enemy with anti-armour weapons as well as his M4 rifle.

In order to draw attention away from wounded soldiers he deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire.

"This selfless act alone bought enough time for those wounded to be moved to relative safety," the citation states.

As the coalition vehicles moved four kilometres out of the engagement area, Trooper Donaldson was forced to run next to them because wounded soldiers occupied all the seats.

Once clear, the troops realised a severely-wounded coalition interpreter had been left behind.

"Displaying complete disregard for his own safety, Trooper Donaldson moved alone, on foot, across approximately 80 metres of exposed ground to recover the wounded interpreter."

He came under "intense and accurate" machine-gun fire.

After reaching the interpreter, Trooper Donaldson carried him back to the relative safety of the vehicles, and provided first aid before returning to the fight.

It took more than two hours for the convoy to escape from enemy fire.
Australia values such exploits highly. Not some military "Glory", for unlike some nations, Australia finds none of that in warfare. But "Helping one's mates", yes, that is what we prize the most. Always have done, it's part of the national psyche.
The most recent Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross was Warrant Officer Keith Payne VC OAM in 1969 for gallantry during the Vietnam War. Under heavy enemy fire Warrant Officer Payne instigated a daring rescue of more than 40 men, many of them wounded, and led the party back to the battalion base.

Along with Mr Payne, the only other surviving Australian VC recipient is Victorian Edward Kenna, who won his award for service in New Guinea in 1945.
And finally, from the ABC :
NAOMI WOODLEY: The rescued interpreter has made a full recovery, but despite all of the accolades Trooper Donaldson says he doesn't see himself as a hero.

MARK DONALDSON: Every single one of those soldiers that are there serving for the nation are heroes and they should all be thanked and they should all be seen as heroes for that.
And two more very, very brave people.
KEITH PAYNE: I'm absolutely delighted that we have a live one (laughs). In a party like his, your chances of coming out alive are pretty negative.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Trooper Donaldson says he hopes to return to Afghanistan later this year. His wife, Emma Donaldson says she expects nothing less.

EMMA DONALDSON: He was married to the army before he married me and I support him all the way. So I'm happy to always keep the home front organised and just wait for his return.
I think I might, just, be able to do what Trooper Donaldson did. Except I'd almost certainly muck it up and get myself killed for nothing. But I know that if it was my partner, there's no way I could do what Emma Donaldson is doing.

Thursday 15 January 2009

Gender Confusion

From Shrink Wrap, a blog by three psychiatrists who I've been in correspondence with:
Sometimes our readers tell us about themselves-- their careers, their reason for an interest in mental health, where they're from, and maybe their names or their photos give away their gender (hi to Zoe Brain across the globe whose blog tells of his she-to-he journey)...
Er... almost. They did get corrected.
Anonymous said...

(hi to Zoe Brain across the globe whose blog tells of his she-to-he journey).

That would be her he-to-she journey I believe.
January 12, 2009

Zoe Brain said...

Yes, anonymous is correct.

But one has to be relaxed about such minor errors :)

The thought was kind. That's all that matters.
January 15, 2009
OK, I had a quiet chuckle over that too. Even the best and most expert of us sometimes gets such minor details wrong.

Look, this kind of thing isn't common knowledge. It's outside most people's experience. With kindness and rationality though, minor glitches and typos - even brain-typos - don't matter.

Compare and contrast some other pardonable mistakes, this time over at Yahoo Answers :
Could sex change occur naturally in humans?
I know this sounds very stupid but I am taking a seminar course and we've been studying a case in which members of an isolated tribe from New Guinea experience sex change. All members of the trible are initially born females.. at one point, all the children are taken somewhere by the Elder where the undergo secret rituals. After they return, about half of them that used to have female genetalia have male. They are welcomed by the men into the tribe's men community.

Now, i've looked all over google and wikipedia and found nothing.. The prof insisted that this actually happen and he wants us to research this topic.... i am screwed.

ANY background on this would be appreciated.. thanks
And later...
16 hours ago
***Radgal*** that was the most helpful answer. thank you very much, I just emailed Zoe.

15 hours ago
Of course there were some who let their natural scepticism prevent them from actually researching the issue. No great drama, except that their pardonable ignorance was not ameliorated by basic humanity.
From Yahoo Answers:
No, not in humans. That's not how human physiology works. In some species of frogs it might, but in humans, it is not possible.

"males that start femininzing spontaneously."
WTF? That has to be the biggest pile of bullsh*t I've heard.
* 16 hours ago

From American Transcendentalist:
Your prof is putting you very much on, in what I consider a totally unethical manner--deliberately using his professorial authority to lie to his students. The off-chance that he's not lying deliberately but is persuaded himself of the truth of this preposterous c*ck-and-bull story is maybe even more horrifying in its implications. In any case, you need to take this immediately to the Dean of Instruction and/or the Dean of Students. For misconduct of this serious a nature, your prof should be dismissed, and the course he's teaching (or mis-teaching) cancelled, and your grades accordingly adjusted. Pitiful that you can persist in believing this crap. Where are you--Bob Jones University?--Ah, I just checked your profile--Guelph, Ontario "University," i.e., VETERINARY COLLEGE. I must say now it all makes sense. The faculty at veterinary colleges are always making fascinating discoveries in human biology. I await your proofs with bated breath.
* 16 hours ago
I trust he found the proofs satisfactory. The most appropriate one was The sambia “turnim-man”: Sociocultural and clinical aspects of gender formation in male pseudohermaphrodites with 5-alpha-reductase deficiency in Papua New Guinea by Herdt and Davidson. "Turnim-man" in pidgin means "(person who) Turns into a man". I'll quote from the abstract:
Female subjects changed from the female to male-identified role, but in circumstances of social trauma. The authors find ambiguity here related to the presence of a third sexual category available for sex-assignment and typing. Cultural valuation of the male role makes gender-switching from female to male pragmatically adaptive. The study concludes that social-experiential and cultural factors are significant in the formation of gender identity change in male pseudohermaphrodites with 5-agr-reductase deficiency.
Meaning that societal pressure to conform beats (sometimes literally) women with this condition into "turning into men" in a social as well as a physical sense. Cultural valuation of the male role makes gender-switching from female to male pragmatically adaptive. is a fancy way of saying that the Patriarchy treats Females badly, and 5ARD women who want to avoid the "glass ceiling" had better butch up their social role and pretend to be men, or else.

There's even more Gender Confusion in the comments on the story Florida conservatives fight transgender restroom rule :
Of course they are mentally ill....

Intersexed is not transsexual. Intersexed is a birth defect that should be corrected as soon as possible after birth so the child can be raised to have a normal life. Stop trying to say they are the same. They most certainly are not. These babies that are deformed are not yours to further your sick agenda....

Join a circus with the bearded lady, I guess. There will always be freaks of nature. It is sad but until we are able to elminate all birth defects, these things will happen. There is male and female. Pick one.
As I wrote :
In summary - it's not that TS/IS people are confused about their gender. They are victims of "gender confusion" though - other people's.

Wednesday 14 January 2009


The official results aren't in, but it looks like I came third in the Weblog Awards ANZ category.

Or as I like to think of it, the best blog in Australia not owned and financed by Rupert Murdoch. First place (and rightly so) went to Tim Blair of the Daily Telegraph. Second went to Gizmodo, published by Alure Corp, owned by a holding company of NewsCorp.

My thanks to all those who voted for me, and as soon as I've cleaned out the latest 70 or so automated spam comments my blog has attracted, I'll be writing individual notes of thanks.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Voting Open Closed

The 2008 Weblog Awards

Vote here.

Polls close Monday January 12, 2009 at 10:00 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which is 5:00 p.m. (EST) and 2:00 p.m. (PST).

You may vote once every 24 hours in each poll.
After voting in an individual poll you will be locked out from voting again in that poll (on the computer you voted from) for 24 hours.
Each poll has its own separate 24 hour lockout control. Voting in, for example, Best Blog will not lock you out of voting in other categories.

NOW ENDORSED BY TIM BLAIR (who could win it any time he chooses)

The Executive Summary below lists why you should, or should not, vote for this blog. But whether you vote or not, welcome to all first-time visitors, and I think you'll find something to amuse and/or perplex you on every page of the archives. Enjoy!

Today's Battles

Once again, not so much against the ravening hordes of bigotry, as just trying to inform people with little or no knowledge about the situation of the facts.

Starting with the Washington Post, which asks the question about whether Gender is Nature or Nurture. Here's my reply:

A story which may cast some light on the subject.

On the planet Glorp, the TumTum tree bears particularly nutritious fruit, ripe when it's purple.

Female Glorps do the hunting, but male ones being of lighter build, gather fruit. So there's an evolutionary selection for both male Glorps having a more acute sense of colour, and for all Glorps, male or female, to prefer purple to green.

Male Glorps start wearing purple clothing, because it's more aesthetically pleasing. Female Glorps don't really care at first, Purple is better than Green, but it's no big deal.

Soon though peer pressure amongst female Glorps makes them look upon female Glorps who wear purple as being "un-Feminine", "Butch" even, as the males all do that. And peer pressure amongst male glorps soon leads them to wear Purple, and nothing but Purple, as otherwise they are accused of being "sissy", effeminate. Even though without this social pressure, all Glorps would tend to prefer Purple rather than Green - the males just a bit more strongly.

There is a biological difference between male and female Glorps, but it has nothing to do with preferring Green vs Purple. The preference is a social construct, but the social construct is based on biology.

Male and Female brains differ, and not just in overall size, but the way they're organised. Men and Women think, and more importantly, *feel* in different ways. Except it's not even that simple, it's a BiModal distribution, not a binary one. There's overlap, and some men will think in some ways in a pattern more commonly found in females, and some females will think in some ways in patterns more commonly found in males.

If Neurology was the only determinant, perhaps 30% of Engineers would be female. But in fact, it's only about 10% - the social constructs due to peer pressure dominate.

So yes, there's a biological basis, statistically speaking. And yes, what we call "gendered behaviour" is mostly a social construct, much of which is a result of the hard-wiring, though not always in the way we'd expect. And finally, people are individuals, not statistics, and should be treated as such. Most Japanese are shorter than most Swedes, but no basketball team would reject a 6'6" tall Japanese in favour of a 5' 0" Swede just because "Swedes are taller".

Yet this kind of discrimination happens all the time when it comes to gender.

For anyone who doesn't believe the biological differences lead to differences in behaviour, just ask those with radically cross-gendered neurology - the transsexuals. Such people have very strong gender differences in their neurology, more so than the average, but the polarity is inconsistent with the rest of the body's appearance.
Or, as the first commenter put it so pithily:
1. Some of the stuff is hard-wired.
2. Some of the stuff is socialized.
3. Some of the stuff is preference.

Each child is an individual.

Onto Shakesville, and the Question of the Day : If you woke up tomorrow morning and you were the "opposite" sex than you were when you went to bed, would your life be different? How? Better? Worse? Same?

Well it took 3 months rather than being overnight, but this is one question I can answer. Better (for me) but worse (for others). Different in too many respects to mention. The Glass ceiling. Being able to cry. Being part of the "Petticoat Mafia". Being talked over at meetings. Having to be careful going home alone at night.

I only mentioned the medical aspects in my first comment, so I'll have to follow up later.

Then a comment on a somewhat older post at : Discovery of a "Transsexual Gene" Raises More Questions Than Answers.

I try to show that the evidence in this particular area is only part of a coherent whole, and that although much has been made of it, other evidence is far more compelling, even if less well publicised.

I'll be dealing with the use by a so-called "Concerned Citizens" group of what looks at first glance like a trailer for a Kiddie Porn movie to publicise their cause later. An advert that's very professionally produced, obviously by a firm with lots of practice in the area. I doubt the police will investigate this group for links with paedophile rings, and I personally think the chance is low. I also think it can't be entirely excluded. There are an awful lot of people out there so convinced of their own moral rectitude that "bearing false witness" is quite acceptable - in a good cause.

Monday 12 January 2009

War Crimes in Gaza

Article 52 of the Geneva Convention states:
Article 52: General Protection of Civilian Objects

1. Civilian objects shall not be the object of attack or of reprisals. Civilian objects are all objects which are not military objectives as defined in paragraph 2.

2. Attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives. In so far as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage.

3. In case of doubt whether an object which is normally dedicated to civilian purposes, such as a place of worship, a house or other dwelling or a school, is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, it shall be presumed not to be so used. Article 53 Protection of cultural objects and of places of worship without prejudice to the provisions of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 14 May 1954, and of other relevant international instruments, it is prohibited:

a. to commit any acts of hostility directed against the historic monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples;

Now see this video of what is prima facie a direct violation of this protocol: in short, a War Crime, being the deliberate attack on a Masjid, a Mosque.

Except.... there are "secondaries". Secondary explosions as a consequence of the original attack. Explosions that do the majority of the damage to the building. Explosions proving beyond any doubt that the building was being used for military purposes, storing weaponry being used for indiscriminate attacks against civilians - a war crime in itself.

The Geneva Protocol doesn't end there, you see. The rest of the protocol states:
b. to use such objects in support of the military effort;
c. to make such objects the object of reprisals.
The indiscriminate attacks themselves are another war crime, as are attempts to use "human shields". That's covered in the preceding article, Article 51.

The military actions in Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces are being conducted with Lawyers looking over the soldiers' shoulders. Their actions have been scrupulously careful to comply with the letter and the spirit of the Law of Armed Conflict.

Except nothing is certain in war. "Blue on Blues" - "Friendly Fire Incidents" where armies end up killing their own people happen, no matter how careful they are. Civilians in the area of operations get killed the same way. One can only minimise the slaughter of the innocent, not prevent it. This becomes doubly hard when the enemy views its own population as instruments of propaganda, deliberately putting them at maximum risk, and violating the Laws of War at every turn by doing so.

Sunday 11 January 2009

Greek vs Latin Rocketry

Popular Mechanics has a somewhat sensationalist story on the current US manned space programme. You see, a group of engineers share my view that the Ares (Greek God of War - equivalent of Roman Mars) programme is foundering. So they're proposing an alternative that should be less risky, the Jupiter (Roman Ruler of the Gods - equivalent of Greek Zeus) project. It's similar, but the devil is in the details. Popular Mechanics describes this group as "NASA Renegades". And they got their hearing today.
A group of renegade space vehicle designers, including NASA engineers bucking their bosses, today got their chance to make their case to the next presidential administration. During a morning meeting at NASA headquarters in Washington D.C. with Obama administration transition team members, a handful of advocates today pitched an idea to scrap NASA's existing post-shuttle plan.

Instead, they want to create a different launch vehicle from space shuttle parts that could reach the International Space Station and, eventually, be used for a return to the moon. According to the current plan, NASA's launchers are slated to fly in 2015, five years after the shuttle is retired. The alternative plan, called Jupiter Direct, promises to trim that date by two years and tens of millions of dollars.

"We were received well, but they were very clear they are offering no opinions at this point," says Ross Tierney, a collectible space model kit designer from Florida who presented the alternative plan. "To get what is essentially a presidential level meeting is an honor and privilege for us. We hope something comes of it."
Breath-Holding is contra-indicated.

The differences between the two projects may seem subtle, but they're quite extensive. They represent two different implementations of the same basic vision, one that I believe is a good one, though in the case of the Ares, badly executed due to unknowns that came and bit them on the posterior.

I've blogged about the battle before, in the posts Buy Jupiter and What She Said. That was before the economic meltdown though, and it could be the financial rules have changed. Instead of saving money, it now appears the new fashion is to spend, spend, spend in the manner of a drunken sailor just hitting port. The money allocated to keeping just one of the US Carmakers afloat could pay for a space programme ten times over, with change to spare.
Critics charge that the (Ares) design, which was supposed to draw heavily on converted parts from the space shuttle, now relies on too many made-to-order parts, driving up development costs and lengthening the time to launch. Defenders of the Ares program say that the changes became necessary, as happens during many complex engineering projects, and that restarting a man-rated launcher program would likely cause more delays and invite a redistribution of NASA's budget.
Thereby dodging the fact that the whole idea of this configuration was to use existing parts unchanged. They cut things too fine, didn't allow for inevitable weight-creep, and now are in deep doo-doo. The Jupiter concept uses the same philosophy, but makes use of the fact that we know more about it now. It's a "do-over" in light of bitter experience.

But all this could be ultimately irrelevant.
With the inauguration less than two weeks away, many are hoping that Obama will present a new space exploration plan soon. The current NASA administrator, Michael Griffin, is not expected to stay; the announcement of his replacement may come next week. Changing the hardware blueprint for the organization presents a deeper problem: A wrong step now could cost jobs, waste multiple millions of dollars and increase the gap during which the nation will have no way of launching people into space.

Spokesmen for the Obama transition team refused to comment on the meeting—since the election they have not offered any public comments on the new administration's plan for NASA. During the campaign, Barack Obama changed his position, first promising change at the agency, suggesting that the government mine NASA's budget for other programs, then backing away by promising that space-related jobs (particularly in Florida) would not be threatened.
Will there even be a US Manned space programme under the new administration? Or will it be expanded into a great money-guzzling hole as part of an "economic stimulus package" to save jobs (and votes..) in Florida?

Stay tuned for developments. One thing's for sure : any decision that's made will have everything to do with money, and nothing to do with space exploration. The latter would be a useful, but ultimately dispensable by-product.

Saturday 10 January 2009

True Love and the Brain

It seems that True Love lasts forever. At least a third of the time, anyway.

"It's always been assumed that passionate love inevitably declines over time," said Arthur Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook University and one of four authors of the study, presented in November at the Society for Neuroscience annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

"But in survey after survey we always have these people who have been together a long time and say they are intensely in love. It was always chalked up to self-deception or trying to make a good impression," he said.

This study suggests that's not the case, said Bianca Acevedo.
In fact, she said, the study found an advantage to the longer-term relationships she studied: The brains of those people showed less anxiety and obsessiveness.

Aron had conducted an earlier MRI study published in 2005 among 17 people who had recently fallen in love. He found that regions of the brain associated generally with reward and motivation - the same regions that light up when cocaine is taken - activated when the subjects were shown pictures of their beloved. These regions, Aron said, are not the same as those associated with sexual arousal.
There's more to Love than just Sex. All too many charged with overseeing morality on religious grounds don't see that. You'd think that they, of all people, would understand that Love is more than just the pleasurable rubbing of mucous membranes - though that's usually involved too, and with someone you truly love, is quite special.

It's neither necessary nor sufficient though. Useful, certainly, and when it doesn't happen, something valuable and beautiful is lost. But not the most important thing.
Using the same approach, the researchers recruited 17 people who, like Bernstein, said they were still madly in love with their spouses.
Acevedo said it was impossible to extrapolate from their study what percentage of long-lasting couples might register the same intensity of emotion as her 17 subjects. But she said a previous phone survey of several hundred people in long-term relationships she and Aron conducted found about 35 percent rated their feeling for their partners as very intense.

"We were shocked," she said. "We hadn't predicted it would be that high."

Keith Davis, professor emeritus of psychology at University of South Carolina, said other studies support Acevedo and Aron's research.

"I think popular literature underestimates how many retain a high level of intense emotional investment with their partners," he said.
The fMRI scans showed to the researchers' surprise, that people who fell in love, married and stayed together for so long, are just as much in love with each other as the day they wed.

As I and my partner are, despite us both being women, and neither of us being lesbian. We may be... unusual. Unconventional, even. But we're not alone.

Our 27th wedding anniversary is coming up in two months. And we have, against all odds, a son who is the most important thing in both our lives. OK, I'm a hopeless romantic as well as being a scientist, but I love happy beginnings. Maybe you could say that our story would make the ultimate Chick Flick.

Friday 9 January 2009

On Transsexuality and Transphobia

I should preface all of this by "to the best of our knowledge..." or "the evidence very strongly indicates that..." or similar weasel-words, rather than making flat statements. All I can say is that of the competing theories, this one is the only one consistent with all the observations. Where it has holes, there's plausible mechanisms postulated, and competing theories either have to invoke unique mechanisms found nowhere else in Science to cover their gaps, or more often, just plain ignore them.

OK, so what is transsexuality?

Simply, having a gender identity that differs from societal perceptions of the body's gender.

This definition in terms of "societal perceptions" covers the many cases where the body is Intersexed, or where surgical intervention shortly after birth reverses appearance of natural genitalia, or the various Intersex conditions that give rise to sex-reversal syndromes after birth.

For example, a boy who as the result of a botched circumcision ends up with no penis may be surgically altered to an apparently female form (I can think of 2 cases immediately). If the boy revolts against the outside assignation, he is deemed transsexual. The David Reimer case is well known, but Dr Zucker (that's PhD not MD) intervened in another case, and the patient as the result now identifies as a rather butch bisexual woman with severe difficulties in forming relationships and chronic depression. This Dr Zucker deems a "success", as he states on a video available at Youtube.

OK, so what causes transsexuality, this differing gender identity? How do we know that we are male or female?

We're not completely sure, but Milton Diamond's Biased-Transaction theory is definitely proven for some cases. It may be true for everyone. Basically, hard-wired biasses, propensities, instincts, reflexes, and emotional rather than rational responses follow a BiModal distribution. One pattern peaks in females, the other peaks in males, though it's fuzzy. We "know" that we're boys or girls by comparing ourselves with others. "I do not think like X,Y, and Z. X,Y and Z are girls, so I cannot be a girl". Later, this gets extended to "I think like A, B and C. A. B and C are boys, and I know I can't be a girl, therefore I must be a boy". Such mostly or wholly subconscious comparison is usually reinforced by cues such as similar body appearance, social role, clothing and so on, but when these contradict the emotional and instinctive data, they are ignored.

So what causes these hypothetical biases?

This is one area we now have good, and improving, data on. It's all in the lymbic system of the brain, the hypothalamus and nearby structures. These are strongly sexually dimorphic, one common pattern for males, a quite different one for females. You could even say that this is the area that defines ones sex, rather than chromosomes, bodily appearance etc. For transsexual people, the neuroanatomy is strongly towards one extreme, which is discordant with societal perceptions of their "true" gender. Many people of both sexes are potentially "BiGendered", and could function with various degrees of adequacy in either social role, but perhaps 2/3 of people could not.

How can the lymbic nucleus become inconsistent during gestation?

We don't have a good handle on this. We do know that administration of certain hormonal drugs during pregnancy increases likelihood of Transsexuality 500 times. We know that certain gene sequences are associated with increased rates of transsexuality, with different sequences being involved in Male-To-Female as opposed to Female-to-Male transsexuality. The evidence is consistent with the theory that both one of a number of genetic propensities is needed (and we haven't identified more than a few yet), plus anomalous hormonal environment in the womb. Both circumstances are needed, they are both independant, both quite common and normal, but the combination is relatively rare.

The evidence is summarised in BiGender and the Brain, though as the article is over 6 months old, much of the most recent data that confirms the conclusions in it isn't included.

What is Transphobia?

For very good reasons to do with evolutionary development, anything to do with confusion about gender identity tends to cause instinctive and unreasoning disquiet, discomfort, and even revulsion. This can manifest as bigotry and hatred, but most often results in people "not wanting to think about it", and ignoring the evidence saying "I don't buy this whole woman trapped in a male body stuff". Conversely, because the neuroanatomy is bimodal rather than binary, some people have an instinctive partial understanding of the situation. While not transsexual themselves, they have elements of transsexuality in their psychic makeup, and could probably function reasonably well in an opposite gender role.

Transphobia is a perfectly natural instinctive reaction. But so is Xenophobia, Racism and many other evils. Transphobia and to a lesser extent Homophobia are the result of evolutionary pressures towards increasing chances of procreation. Many such beliefs are rationalised afterwards: the instinctive revulsion comes first. Fortunately, we're rational, and not slaves to our instincts - unless we want to be.

Thursday 8 January 2009

Today's Battles

Not so much battles against bigotry this time, as efforts to educate.

Over at The Cellar Door, they ask in all sincerity the question
Is feeling like you should be born a woman when you are biologically a man the same as feeling you are a dinosaur?
In other words, is it delusion, psychosis? They honestly don't know. So I try to answer.

Another question, over at Jossip :
If you can't make fun of him (it) who can you make fun of? If mocking the transgendered is wrong, I don't want to ever be right.
So I propose some more worthy targets.
who to make fun of? Well let's see… there's MassResistance, who wrote this about Transsexuals :
"…transgender/transsexual” activists… want to offer your children on the bloody altar of transsexuality — pulling them into sex-change operations involving unimaginable bodily mutilations and hormonal manipulations.

The culture of death has created a compulsion in the souls of the homosexual radicals and their "trans" allies, driving them ever further into new perversions. There is no bottom to this pit of depravity, and they will drag many innocent victims along with them: the young, the lonely, the psychologically and physically wounded, the confused – including some of your children and grandchildren, family, friends and neighbors. There will be no safe haven. You cannot cocoon in your homes or churches. Our public schools, businesses, public accommodations (which may include churches), your employers and insurers, will all be forced to yield to yet-undefined perversions, protected by law."
I think that's worth some mockery.

Or there's Adol T. Owen-Williams II, a Montgomery County Republican Central Committee member, who shouted "Heil Hitler!" immediately after the vote to allow Intersexed women and men to be allowed to drink from public drinking fountains. "Wait until little girls start showing up dead all over the county because of freaks of nature."

But I think the ones most deserving of it are those with IQ's actually greater than their shoe size, who comment on blogs without bothering to do any research on the biology. May I recommend Biology Prof Veronica Drantz's presentation on the subject? They're quite similar to ones given to both Medical and Psychology students here at the Australian National University, and are available on the web, free of charge.

You;ll be able to see from MRIs and autopsies that transsexual people really *do* have "male brain (and hence mind) in female body" syndrome, or at least, until the body gets modified to the minimum degree they can live with.
At Eve-101, there's a less combative dialogue, one that's not really a battle at all.
To correct a few bits of misinformation and misunderstanding…

TS (transsexual) women who receive breast augmentation get exactly the same surgical procedure as other women. A “boob job” to use the vernacular. If done correctly, sensation and lactation (yes, most can lactate) are both preserved, as they are with other women....
And so on and soforth. As I said, clarifying misconceptions and correcting misinformation, though in far too much detail I'm afraid. A friendly bunch, I felt at home there.

At TinyCatPants (???), some information for a Gay guy who wonders why those who are the T in GLBT feel we've got good reason to mistrust elements of the GLB.
In 1979 Janice Raymond poured more gasoline on the fire with her virulently anti-transgender book The Transsexual Empire. Raymond also took it a step further in 1981 and penned a quasi-scientific looking report that was responsible for not only ending federal and state aid for indigent transpeople, but led to the insurance company prohibitions on gender reassignment related claims. Germaine Greer’s anti-transgender writing combined with Raymond’s led to involuntary outing and harassment of transwomen in lesbian community settings. It also sowed the seeds for the anti-transgender attitudes in the lesbian community that persisted through the late 90’s....
Plus rather a lot more. maybe it's the thousands, and possibly tens of thousands of us who have died for lack of medical treatment, all in the name of some GLB philosophy, and directly because of some still revered GLB philosophers.
Elizabeth Birch for a while eclipsed Janice Raymond as Transgender Public Enemy Number One when she was quoted at a Chicago GLBT event as stating that transinclusion in ENDA (the Employment and Non Discrimination Act) a top legislative priority of transgender leaders would happen ‘over her dead body’.
The consistent historical pattern of statements like that didn't help either.

This one's not so much a battle, as a genuine question that I've found it impossible to have answered. Over at the Catholic Forum, I ask What is the Church's position on the Intersexed and Transsexed?. You'd think it's a simple question, easily answered. But it appears not, and it looks like the Pope doesn't actually believe Intersexed people exist. Otherwise the Cracked Crystal Ball would never have been able to so thoroughly demolish his latest speech to the curia as being factually and scripturally unsound.

Wednesday 7 January 2009

SpySats and Salesmen

Two in the "Interesting URLs" category.

First, the story of Ike’s gambit: The development and operations of the KH-7 and KH-8 spy satellites over at the Space Review.

A story of the Cold War, and the Eisenhower administration's gamble on replacing manned U-2 spy planes with low-orbiting recon satellites, at a time when neither Superpower had reliable orbital launch systems. Declassification of this historical data has been held up since 1992, but is now in progress, so the story can be told.

You see, while the US Congress was debating the SAMOS recon satellites - and leaking details like a seive - the real work on high-definition orbital photography was being done in a different part of the budget entirely. A very, very covert one, away from Congressional Blabbermouths.

The second URL is Not Always.., a reply to the old dictum about "The Customer is Always Right". Along with the usual tales of grownups behaving like spoilt two-year-olds, there's this little gem:

Scene: an adult store in Los Angeles. Enter a fat, balding guy in his 40s.

Guy: “Hello, Miss.”

Me: “Good morning.”

Guy: “Do you have any–HOLY ****! You’re a girl!”

Me: “I am?”

Guy: “Shouldn’t you be at home, getting ready for your husband, cooking or something?”

Me: “I burn salads. My WIFE tends to cook more.”

Guy: “Holy ****! You’re a heathen!”

Me: “Doom upon me. What was it you wanted?”

Guy: “Whatever. Got any Bibles?”

Me: “???”
Er... Right.

Tuesday 6 January 2009

Executive Summary

I'm getting a lot of traffic from new readers because of my nomination for the 2008 Weblog awards. So although this will be "Old Hat" to regular readers, I think I owe new visitors a quick summary, so they can quickly decide whether the archives are worth their time to look at, or whether they should move on and not waste their time.

Where to begin... the beginning, obviously. I started this blog back in July 2003, before blogging really took off. An "early adopter" if you like. I was just your standard everyday Rocket Scientist and Computer Nerd, with a penchant for political commentary, and a quirky sense of humour who wanted to share some of the weird and wonderful sites she'd found on the net. Or rather, he had found.

At the time, I looked on myself as a man who had this mild but utterly unshakeable belief that He should really have been born She. Oh, I'd been diagnosed with a mild Intersex condition, my puberty had never been quite complete, but apart from the impact on fertility, the only effects were some skeletal and other bodily anomalies. It wasn't a big part of my life. I tried to be the best man any woman could be, and being the best person I could be seemed more important than "male" or "female". I didn't see much difference anyway, I was obviously a man, and women thought and felt just like I did.

A bigger part of my life was love for knowledge, a child-like curiosity in the way the world worked. A delight in games and puzzles. Political commentary with a decidedly right-wing bent. A contempt for those whose hypocrisy enabled them to talk a lot about their "love and respect for their fellow humans", yet who never actually did anything concrete to help. And those who talked about "diversity", yet whose intolerance for dissent bordered on the fanatical. Now maybe those on the Right did almost as little to help others, but at least they didn't pretend to. In concrete terms, they did more too.

So I blogged about neurology, cyborg lobsters, apace programs, bushfires, "Blue Suede Shoes" in the original Klingon, some Human Rights issues... and even my own Homophobia, something I wasn't proud of, and a disease I was gradually recovering from. "Software Development, Space, Politics, and Interesting URLs. And of course, Brains.."

May 2005 marked a watershed in my life. To cut a long story short, I got a second incomplete puberty, this time the right way. Now while sex-reversal is common enough in many vertebrates, in the higher mammals it's rare, and in humans usually only female-to-male. More common than you think though. Less than 1% are from male-to-female, and the transformation isn't as complete. Still, while things were still changing, my official medical diagnosis was changed to "severe androgenisation of a non-pregnant woman".

So here I am, a 50 year old frumpy female academic and geek-girl engineer, certified genius (HA!) and self-appointed expert on all things animal vegetable and mineral.... and I still haven't worked out how to fasten a bra properly. I'm 50 going on 16. Oh, all the natural instincts came pre-installed (much to my surprise), but the learned behaviour, the stuff that is a Social Construct, that didn't. I'm still figuring out which parts I want to adopt, and which to reject.

I'm still a work-in-progress, but then, aren't we all? Just some more than others... And my life is probably not all that different now than it would have been if I hadn't taken the scenic route to being a middle-aged woman. Apart from the same-sex marriage. And being my son's biological father rather than his mother. Little details that complicate life.

The most amazing thing to me though is not the unusual medical stuff, the hormones, the gene complexes... it's the people I've met. People who exemplify the finest of humanity. Kindness, Courage, Tenacity, people who have exceeded the bounds of what I thought was humanly possible. I've blogged a little about them too.

So welcome to my blog. You might want to start looking at the archives at a post I wrote 12 months after my system staged a palace revolt, an event that in retrospect probably saved my life. Annus Mirabilis.


Monday 5 January 2009

I'll Drink to That!

From The Times :
The University of Glasgow research suggests low to moderate alcohol intake improves the performance of the female brain while protecting against cognitive decline.

Almost 6,000 people aged 70 to 82 took part in the study, carried out in Ireland, Scotland and the Netherlands.

Little difference was found between male drinkers and non-drinkers, but women who consumed between one and seven units a week scored significantly better than teetotal females.
“Differences were seen across all cognitive domains, including global cognition, speed of information processing and verbal memory,” said David Stott, author of the study and professor of geriatric medicine at the university.
Researchers found women who drank at least three units of alcohol per week scored consistently better than non-drinkers.

In addition to improving mental performance, Stott found alcohol consumption appeared to protect women from the age-associated cognitive decline that can lead to dementia — benefits that were not seen in the men studied.

One reason may be that men drink more than recommended in the guidelines, negating any positive effects. While previous studies have said wine in particular has protective qualities, Stott said spirits and beer also improve mental performance.
The fact that spirits, beer and wine all show the same effect argues that it's the ethanol in them, rather than any other substance, that's the active ingredient.

Or is it? Correlation doesn't imply causation - maybe there's another factor, something that leads women with greater cognitive ability to consume moderate amounts of alcohol.

And why the sex difference? Perhaps the men are "irresponsible" and exceed the recommended amounts. Perhaps. But maybe that's just sexism, it sounds very much like the mirror-image of some of the calumnies spread about women in days gone past.

And if there's one thing I've learnt about biology, it's just how fuzzy these bimodal distributions are. Even if 99% are either in category A or category B, there's always some in both A and B, and some in neither. I'd be interested to see if there was any overlap, and how large the differences were.

But let's assume everything is as it appears. That alcohol affects the brains of men and women differently, all other things being equal. Ok then.... why? How?

It won't surprise long-time readers of this blog that male and female brains differ in a number of respects. From gross differences like brain weight, medium ones such as number of cells in particular structures, right down to differences in response to neurotransmitters and hormones at the cellular level, there are objectively measurable differences that we know have gross effects. For example, the propensity of women to be more subject to depression than men.

I don't have the knowledge to even guess why the effects are different, whether it's an effect of communications between cells and structures, or an effect at the cellular level. I suspect that neither do the researchers, "more work needed".

It would be interesting though if the samples included comparable numbers of transsexuals, both male and female. We know that "male transsexuals have male brains" over-simplifies matters. In some very important, even crucial, ways they definitely do. But other structures may not be so clear-cut male. And vice-versa for the women too. It would be great to include some intersexed people as well, of both sexes, with each of a variety of common intersex conditions. We - people like me - could be useful tools to help prize out some of Nature's more intractable secrets.

Of course I'm talking like a Scientist and a Geek. I'm sure that many who would make wonderful experimental subjects wouldn't feel happy at being "Laboratory Animals". To me though, being my own experimental animal is wonderful, I feel I'm making a real contribution to Human Knowledge. No ethical issues about informed consent either, I know exactly what I'm getting into.

I don't expect others to share my views though. And though I speak with the tongues of Men and Angels, I may not be able to share my constant wonder at this bizarre, baroque, and ultimately beautiful Universe that we live in.

Science, although it strives for objectivity, is ultimately a very Human pursuit. It speaks to our inner children, curious and unafraid. And able to find wonder in the search for the Higgs Boson, or Measuring the Marigolds, or even figuring out why drink appears to make women think better.

On that note, I might just have a small glass of Green Ginger Wine tonight.