Monday 28 February 2011

Time Travelling in Computing

Going back 20 years....

Going back 30 years...

A blind alley from 30 years ago - good idea, but soon overtaken by the home computer

Going back 40 years...

And what the future looked like, 40 years ago

And from 55 years ago, around the time I was born. A Computer with 12k of RAM! Less than 25 years later, I owned a machine with 16k of memory, and 100 times as fast. It still used tapes, not disks though.

We are all time travellers on a one-way trip into the future. Perhaps we can teach to new generations the flexibility of mind we've had to have - because in 50 years time, the world will be at least as different from 2011 as 2011 is from 1961.

As for us? We have to remind ourselves that no high school student knows what a telephone dial is, or has ever seen a slide rule or a black-and-white TV. And neither have their parents.

Sunday 27 February 2011


I've published a lot of data, papers in medical journals and the like, on the neuroscience of transsexuality. You'll find a partial list in the column on the left. Not cherry-picked, the picture is not as sharp as we might like, but not too bad.

My appreciation is that the data taken as a whole constitutes proof. Absolute proof? Well, there's almost no such thing in Science. Definitely not. Proof beyond "reasonable doubt"? Taking all the evidence together, I think so, yes. Proof "on the balance of probability"? Certainly, that was found by the Full Bench of the Australian Family Court as far back as 2003, when there was far less evidence than today.

But what about taking each piece of evidence individually, on its own? Is there a single, reliable touchstone? Adequate for a diagnosis, as conjectured by a New Scientist article I blogged about a month ago?

Er.... I don't think so, no. Much as I'd like to believe otherwise.

To illustrate the limits of reliability of each individual piece of evidence taken on its own, there's a marvellous post that explains it far better than I could, on Sugar and Slugs: Why Sex Differences Don’t Always Measure Up.

Please read the whole thing. I'll just give some pictorial hints. First, some graphs showing the overlaps involved. To start with, nothing controversial: just height.

Then what I consider the single best piece of evidence, numbers and types of cells in one particular area of the brain.

Well, so far, so good. There's overlap, but no worse than for height, and it's accepted without demur that "women are shorter than men" even though we all know many exceptions.

The one that illustrates graphically the problem we have regarding reliability is this:

On the "number of cases examined" axis, we flatline. The difference from zero is too small to see at this resolution, we've lost all data.

We can be really certain about men and women in general, but for trans people, not so much.


First - there aren't that many Transsexuals. 1 in 3000 people or so.

Second - in medicine and psychology, many propositions have been accepted not so much as "True" as "True Enough". We routinely prescribe and conduct surgery on the basis of propositions only proven to the level of 0.05. Meaning there's a 1 in 20 chance we're wrong. This "medical standard of proof", once determined, is deemed enough - and getting funding just to remove a bit of doubt from something "everyone already knows" is problematic. Add in the fact that the test involves autopsying well-preserved brains of trans people, and repeated experiments here just aren't going to happen.

fMRI and PET scans don't have this disadvantage, so while the overlap there is greater, and the fuzziness more fuzzy, we can get better reliability by repeating things hundreds or thousands of times without requiring the subject to be dead.

Which is good for Science, but for diagnostic tests? When there's so much overlap in individuals and so much uncertainty on single measurements? No. Not enough. It might help, but a definitive test it's not, and on its own never will be.

A series of different, independant tests of the same kind might though. If each test has a 50% chance of being wrong, and we do 10 different tests, all saying the same thing... then the odds of being wrong are less than 1 in 1000.

Friday 25 February 2011

Artificial Ovaries

From In vitro maturation of oocytes via the pre-fabricated self-assembled artificial human ovary by Krotz et al, Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics Volume 27, Number 12, 743-750, DOI: 10.1007/s10815-010-9468-6
An artificial human ovary can be created with self-assembled human theca and granulosa cell microtissues, and used for IVM (in vitro maturation) and future oocyte toxicology studies.
Recently, our group developed a new method for the self-assembly of 3D microtissues from monodispersed cells. Cells are seeded into the recesses of micro-molded agarose gels, and allowed to self-assemble into 3D microtissues. These microtissues can be harvested from the molds, combined and co-cultured to form more complex microtissues. This system was used to create an artificial human ovary composed of the three functional ovarian follicle cell types: theca, granulosa and oocytes. We hypothesize the artificial human ovary more closely recreates the 3D interaction between the three follicular cell types critical to follicular maturation, can be used to mature early antral oocytes, and serves as a model for testing follicular physiology and toxicology.
Still a long way to go before it's ready for therapeutic use. Decades, probably. But only a few.

This means that one day in the not-too-distant future, it's highly likely those Intersexed women with Swyer syndrome and "everything but the ovaries" may be able to give birth to their own biological children. Twenty years? Thirty? Not much more than that, I think. I can't estimate accurately, my knowledge of biology isn't up to it.

With the extension of human lifespans, it's not impossible that young trans girls alive today could give birth. As well as many, many more women who have been given cancer treatment, or who have various more serious intersex conditions. We still have a long way to go, but now we know a road exists.

I can see it here from Mount Nebo. And maybe I can cheat and get a do over.

Thursday 24 February 2011

UK Transgender Patient Satisfaction

Survey of Patient Satisfaction with
Transgender Services
from The Audit Information & Analysis Unit for London, Kent, Surrey, Sussex, Essex, Beds & Herts.
A total of 647 responses were submitted over the six month survey period – 539 online and 108 on paper.
  • The ratio of MtF:FtM was 4:1 which reflects results found in other studies.
  • The age range of the population was 14 – 82 years with a median and mean age of 44 years. However there were differences between the MtF population where the average age was 46 and the FtM population where the average age was lower at 36.
  • In total 98% of those who had surgery felt it was a positive or mainly positive experience and were happy with their outcomes.
  • Almost two thirds of respondents (62%) felt that their GP addressed their needs appropriately but less than a fifth (19%) said their GP was knowledgeable about treatments and only 12% said their GP was able to explain to them what treatments were available
  • 39.5% of respondents were either totally happy with the care received at the GIC or felt it had more good than bad aspects.
  • 16% of respondents felt negatively or very negatively about the care they received at the GIC.
  • 35% felt that the care provided at their GP surgery could be improved and just under half (49%) felt that treatment for trans people at GICs could and should be improved.
There is an issue in that some GPs refuse to prescribe hormones when asked to by the GIC. As part of the ongoing holistic care of a trans person it is important that GPs are involved with the
hormone regime as they are able to provide more local and personalised care.
On a more general note, given the lack of knowledge evident in many areas of the NHS and cases of discrimination found, it may be that a more fundamental change is required with trans awareness being incorporated into general medical training for all doctors.
The results of this study have not bought up any new areas of concern. On the contrary they have confirmed anecdotal accounts and therefore it is useful to have performed this survey.
The survey found that generally respondents had a positive experience as over half (53%, n=339) felt that their GP could always or sometimes help and support them adequately. 17% (n=111) had a negative experience as their GP was never able to help and support them.
Although the results show that generally the respondents felt their GPs were helpful, supportive and addressed their needs appropriately, it is clear that GPs’ levels of knowledge are often not as high. Less than a fifth (19%) felt that their GP was knowledgeable about treatment and only 12% said their GP explained what treatments were available.
Although it varies, most NHS GICs require a patient to have lived in role (the ‘real life test/experience’ (RLE)) for a period of time before they will prescribe hormones and this can cause problems for some patients. For this reason patients often pay privately for hormone therapy before they begin treatment at a GIC which can cause conflict with the GIC. One patient who had been on hormones for two years privately whilst waiting for an appointment to a GIC had their prescription withdrawn at their first appointment and was told they had to start from scratch. This contradicts the WPATH guidelines which state that the RLE is not a diagnostic measure so the lack of a formal recorded RLE at a GIC is not a reason for withholding hormone therapy.
Read the whole thing. There's plenty of room for improvement.

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Vulval Reconstruction Surgery

One woman's experience. From Redbook : I Had the Cancer No One Talks About: Vulvar cancer.

The need for genital reconstruction doesn't just happen to Trans or Intersexed women you see. It can happen to any woman.

Tuesday 22 February 2011


One of the slides in the lecture I'm giving tomorrow.

The course is COMP8100 Requirements Elicitation and Analysis Techniques.

Note there's a lot more stakeholders than just the users and those who pay for it: those who are supposed to build it have to be involved in the requirements analysis too. Not much point stating requirements for something that can't be defined properly, or built within time and budget, or which can't be tested. Or which is so brittle that entirely foreseeable future requirements can't be met.

All you can do is state the aims, then enough detail about how those aims are to be met in a testable fashion that everyone can agree on is feasible and useful. Compromises usually have to be made, so there's a matter of prioritising the requirements too.

Rocket Science... yes, it is, sometimes.

Monday 21 February 2011

The science of heartlessness

From The science of heartlessness - Science -
We've all encountered people with such divergent attitudes toward suffering -- and it often brings up a rather prickly question: Why are some of us bleeding hearts while others have hearts of stone? Science actually provides us with a number of clues.

A Dutch team, for example, has looked at how oxytocin, a hormone frequently associated with female reproduction, influences parenting styles. Dutch scientists watched as a bunch of mothers interacted with their two-year-old children, who were trying to solve a difficult puzzle. Some mothers were patient and helpful; others were not. And the not-so-helpful mothers were more likely to carry a particular version of the oxytocin receptor gene: Their "mommy chemical" system may have been set just a tad to the selfish side, slightly blinding them to the emotions of their children.
But humans have access to another brain system that raises sympathy, too. When you stick out your tongue at a baby, the baby will often stick its tongue out automatically. The motor region of the baby's brain is mirroring your own motor region. Our emotional regions also have a system that helps us to mirror another's feelings. Although many scientists refer to this system as "mirror neurons," referring to brain cells that reproduce other people's emotions in our own brain, that's speculation.

Mirror neurons do exist in monkeys, that's established. When scientists monitored one nerve cell at a time to see how one monkey responded to a second monkey's actions, they found that some neurons fire just as if the watching monkey were performing the action himself. Whether a monkey reaches for food or merely watches another monkey reach for food, his neurons fire identically. Scientists can confirm mirror neurons in monkeys because they're allowed to slip superfine wires into a monkey's brain and tap into one cell at a time. They can't get a permit to do that to humans.
That they'd want to shows a distinct lack of empathy IMHO. If it does no harm - why not be their own experimental animals?

Yes, well, it's Salon. Not exactly a primary source. Nonetheless, for a PopSci article, not too inaccurate as far as I can see. Right now I'm so overwhelmed preparing the COMP8100 course on Requirements Elicitation at the ANU that I have little time for blogging.

Friday 18 February 2011

The AMA on the Origins of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Click to start the presentation in a new window.

Money Quote:

"Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity are conferred during the first 12 weeks of gestation, and they are irreversible"

There are some blatant contradictions which Dr Kate O'Hanlan struggles with - but that's really the fault of the constraining binary language; homosexual or heterosexual. In fact, Biology doesn't conform to a strict binary, and the edges blur between those two extremes. Someone in the minority near the divide can be "pushed over" one way or the other - usually towards behaviourally exclusive heterosexuality (regardless of feelings) due to societal pressure, but being abused as a child, or less commonly as an adult, can cause a push the other way. When the trauma is particularly strong, such as rape trauma resulting in a pathological fear of men, or extreme religious pressure to "resist their inner demons", they can become fanatics. The extreme Right-Wing Religious Homophobic politician who's caught with his pants down is now so common it's a cliche.

Or, untraumatised, they can remain happily Bisexual, or Asexual.

A similar case applies when it comes to Gender Identity, that minority who are bigendered can be pushed one way or the other, or remain androgenous or neutrois. How large those minorities are is another matter, but 1 in 3 seems a good estimate.

This accounts for all of the observed facts; that both gender identity and sexual orientation are inherent, congenital, and unchangeable for most intents and purposes, for a few they are not quite, if the person is traumatised enough. For the rest, the trauma does the same amount of damage, but has no other effect whatsoever.

Thursday 17 February 2011

Identity : Patient Room 232

Just read it. Read the whole. A story that would make an Oscar-winning screenplay. The story of Eric Drew.

I was originally put onto this by M.Italiano, regarding a small part of the story: that this man's genes changed as the result of his cancer treatment. But there's far more to the story than that. I can't summarise it, and I won't attempt to.

From DISCOVER magazine, The Man Who Lost His Name—and His Genetic Identity

You might want to go visit here afterwards too.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

MC Escher's Waterfall

And this is a model showing how it works....

Tuesday 15 February 2011

An Essay on Gender, Sex, Self, Identity and Brains

Taken from my comments on a thread over at I Blame The Patriarchy.
m Andrea asked some really good questions about
And now let’s remember to ask ourselves how is physiology related to the essential essence of a human ?
That encapsulates the crux of the issue, not just of M vs F, but categories, humanity, a whole host of things.

What is self? What is identity?

If (an event happens that causes trauma to your brain), and you survive, are you the same person as before? That might depend on where the damage is, some people have had radical changes of personality due to brain injury, others appear unaffected, even if they have some “cognitive impairment”, “sensory impairment” or paralysis.

What about less crude effects? Just a few microgams of LSD-25 in the bloodstream can change personality. Pituitary and other glandular tumours can cause behavioural changes and may actually cause re-wiring in some areas of the brain that are particularly plastic. Post-partum psychosis is a real threat to women after pregnancy, and that’s just due to see-sawing hormone levels.

Half of psychiatry – the half that actually works – is about neurotransmitters, though some good work is being done on electro-stimulation to cause neural changes to re-wire after damage due to PTSD, and even cure some ADD and ADHD conditions. As long as the area involved is in the rather plastic cerebral cortex, not the hindbrain, such changes should be possible (and could be quite nightmarish in the wrong hands).

Let’s look at hormones. People who are about to have their hormone levels change radically and over more than a few weeks should be made aware that the brain will re-wire as the result.

The most common cause of such hormonal-induced change is puberty. The second most common cause is a first pregnancy.

A rare cause is HRT (hormone replacement therapy), especially when administered as part of a transsexual transition, but also at times as part of cancer treatment (which gives us a good baseline for a control group when studying trans people).

The changes happen fairly quickly, they are perceivable very early by the person concerned. The degree of relief or conversely discomfort caused by the first signs of them is often used to confirm or exclude diagnosis of transsexuality.

See Stage II
It is well documented that the administration of cross sex hormones have a mitigating effect on patents suffering from severe gender dysphoria. The effect is so marked that the treatment is used to confirm or reject the GID diagnosis. Fortunately. psychological outcomes precede permanent physiological secondary sex characteristic changes, making it an ideal diagnostic confirmation/contraindicating tool. Referral is made to a physician who is well versed in the administration and monitoring of patients taking cross sex hormones.

Psychotherapy: Early Stage: Patient is closely monitored for adverse psychological effects of HRT. If no adverse effects are detected or reported and patient reports relief and wishes to continue HRT, patient is educated and prepared for psychological and physiological changes to secondary sex characteristics that are well known to result from the treatment.

Some individuals accept the physical and psychological changes brought about by HRT and incorporate them into their originally assigned gender role. Others may choose to transition to living full time in the new gender role.
.(Parenthetically, although I’ve never had to deal with PMT every month for decades, I did have to deal with a PMT/Menopause/PMT/Menopause cycle due to uncontrolled hormone swings for several months in 2005. I’d rather not repeat the experience.)

Back to HRT:

There are gross changes to the size of brains that are easily measured:
Changing your sex changes your brain: influences of testosterone and estrogen on adult human brain structure by Pol et al, Europ Jnl Endocrinology, Vol 155, suppl_1, S107-S114 2006
Results: Compared with controls, anti-androgen + estrogen treatment decreased brain volumes of male-to-female subjects towards female proportions, while androgen treatment in female-to-male subjects increased total brain and hypothalamus volumes towards male proportions.
But we know little of the details.

Some areas don’t change. For example, trans men show male-pattern anatomy and cognitive processes before as well as after hormone therapy in some areas.

Neuroimaging Differences in Spatial Cognition between Men and Male-to-Female Transsexuals Before and During Hormone Therapy by Scoening et al J Sex Med. 2009 Sep 14.
Conclusions. Our results confirmed previously reported deviances of brain activation patterns in transsexual men (sic - these are MtoF i.e. transsexual women) from men without GID and also corroborated these findings in a group of transsexual patients receiving cross-sex hormone therapy. The present study indicates that there are a priori differences between men and transsexual patients caused by different neurobiological processes or task-solving strategies and that these differences remain stable over the course of hormonal treatment.
So it’s not that simple. There’s no such thing as a “male brain” or a “female brain”, any more than there’s a “male height” or “female height”. (Yet men tend to be taller than women).

Height isn’t a social construct, but the concepts of “Tall” and “Short” are. 5' 5" is tall for a woman in Thailand, short for a woman in Kenya. And tall for a man anywhere in Europe in the middle ages.

Looking at Gender… 80% or so is a social construct. It differs from place to place and time to time. Pink was a “traditionally masculine” colour in the 19th century. There are few “traditionally gendered” behaviours that have any biological basis at all, and fewer still that are strongly based on biology.

A lot of the ones thought to be based on biology – as they pretty much all were in the 19th century – aren’t. That doesn’t mean to say that none are, we have to look at the actual evidence. Mathematical ability – sexually isomorphic. Instinctive ballistics calculations – sexually dimorphic. And it’s all statistical anyway, we have to treat people as individuals.

One of the areas – or rather, clusters of areas – that is sexually dimorphic (ie boys and girls are anatomically different) is in the lymbic nucleus, which leads to different emotional responses and instincts, which leads to gender identity (or rather, sex identity) crystallisation due to socialisation.

Details over at Biased-Interaction Theory of Psychosexual Development: “How Does One Know if One is Male or Female?” M.Diamond Sex Roles (2006) 55:589–600

Theory predicts that if you bring up a standard, cis-sexual girl in a world where all the people she interacts with are non-op transsexuals, then she will identify as a trans-sexual boy. Because all the boys think, feel, emote, hear, smell etc like she does, and the girls are quite different.

I over-simplify. Because she’d get distress from taking male hormones (wrong neurology) and wouldn’t desire body modification or surgery. Her body map and body are congruent. So she’d be non-op.

Goodness knows what her sexual orientation would be. Is that a matter of pheremones and physical attraction to shape, or psychological attraction? A combination maybe? Or would the incongruence lead her to be Bi or Asexual?

I don’t know.
An explanation of why I don't know:
My own sexual orientation was asexual, and mildly lesbian before my change. Now I'm straight, with a Libido and everything. Was this the result of a removal of a psychological block, or brain re-wiring in a borderline case? Or a combination? The timing is right for the latter, but one area the specialist psych did surprise me with was her warning for me to be prepared in case my orientation changed. When it did, some 4 months later, it looks like the only one at all surprised was me. Everyone else seemed to expect it, either from ignorance of the issue, or possibly seeing signs and portents that I myself did not.

Whatever. It happened. It did leave me with a psychological aversion to thinking about the issue though, which accounts for me not researching this area as thoroughly as I might. I don't know. I should. I'd rather not go there right now though, it would distract me too much from being a parent and doing my PhD.

I try to be objective. I don't always succeed. No scientist does. The good ones realise it, and state the limits of their objectivity, so others can make proper allowances.

Monday 14 February 2011

Saturday 12 February 2011


A post I wrote on another site.
justpassingthrough wrote:
This is where we’re never going to agree. I think it’s illogical, if not preposterous, to conclude that a man who has mostly feminine-coded personality traits is therefore a woman, barring body dysphoria, which is a medical condition that can only be alleviated through the reconstruction of sex organs. Which is again, not enough to qualify as a full on metamorphosis from one sex to another.
But is it illogical that a person who has mostly feminine-coded personality traits is therefore a woman?

You’re begging the question when you say a priori that this person is “a man”. You’ve already assumed your conclusion, so of course you say it’s preposterous.

It really comes down to how you define “male” and “female”. For the extremes, and 59 people out of 60 are at those extremes, it’s simple, easy, obvious. But for some human beings, not so much.

Does being brought up as female make you a woman? David Reimer’s case would argue against that.

What about chromosomes, as the current policy of the Roman Catholic Church says? If you have 2 X chromosomes, you’re a woman (at least, that’s what the Indonesian Catholic Bishops have ruled). Even if you’re 47XXY, identify as male, and have fathered children. The disadvantages of this are obvious.

What about genitalia at birth? Apart from those with ambiguous genitalia, there are those like the Guevedoces whose genitalia changes from female-at-birth to male-after-puberty. Again, we sometimes end up with “women” who have fathered children, and identify as male.

Then there are those few whose transition is the other way.. but again, only the male form isn’t always sterile. It is in some syndromes, merely infertile in others. (Not quite true – one unique case being studied by the Mayo clinic is infertile in both, but he has male neurology).

What about the neuro-anatomically defined “feminine-coded personality traits”, as is the legal definition in Australia and Spain (for example)? Well, as you said, “mostly” applies here too, the brain is no more strictly binary than any other part of the anatomy. And again, in some trans women who are unable to access treatment when young, a few have fathered children. Once they’re post-op, this is impossible of course, and in some jurisdictions, all trans people must be sterilised by law to be recognised.

In Sweden for example. Or Western Australia. Not Germany though, there was a recent court case overturning this requirement as being far too reminiscent of their horrific past.

Then there’s other effects that are correlated with the “female feelings” caused by a female neuro-anatomy. Those traits can cause progressive physiological and biochemical dysfunction due to female-pattern braincells immersed in a male-pattern hormonal environment. You’ve also mentioned the “body map” issue, but even when not present, the requirement for hormone replacement in doses that will visibly change the body can exist.

The humane definition is that if someone thinks, feels, and above all identifies as female due to their neuro-anatomy, then they’re female. But that one’s unsatisfying to many people, perhaps most, especially cis-sexual women. Where do their rights to arrogantly define other people as female or not, or in extreme cases as human or not, end?

See Woods vs C.G Studios, where it was held obita dicta that as a person had had sex reassignment at age 3 months, they were neither male, female, nor child, thus did not fall within the definition of “human” in the legal dictionary used by the court.
This is really the crux of the issue, the cause of all of the controversy, legal and societal persecution of Trans and Intersexed people. Do the words "Man" and "Woman" have any meaning? I think they do. Do they apply to every human? No, they manifestly don't. How do we tell if someone is a "Man" or a "Woman" when they don't conform completely to either stereotype in every way? I think you just ask them. How do we reliably separate the objective metric "sex" from the subjective quality "gender"? Well, even the most butch lesbian is a woman, we manage that separation pretty well. Well, now we do. That wasn't always true.

Friday 11 February 2011

The internet has (kind of) run out of space - CNN

As mentioned in a previous post...

The internet has (kind of) run out of space - CNN
On Thursday, the internet as we know it ran out of space.

The nonprofit group that assigns addresses to service providers announced that, on Thursday morning, it allocated the last free internet addresses available from the current pool used for most of the internet's history.

"This is an historic day in the history of the internet, and one we have been anticipating for quite some time," said Raul Echeberria, chairman of the Number Resource Organization.

But fear not. The group has seen this coming for more than a decade and is ready with a new pool of addresses that it expects to last, well, forever.
Don't worry, nothing can go wro
SEGFAULT KERNEL PANIC f0 0f c7 c8 dd d9

418 Error I'm a teapot

Thursday 10 February 2011

Life Matters

From the ABC : Making girls and boys - Life Matters - 8 February 2011
Today's guest has explored the science and psychology of sex and gender in her book Making Girls and Boys: inside the science of sex.

Audio MP3

My comment :
Thanks to the Jane McCredie, and the ABC team for this programme.

Intersexed and Trans people face enormous challenges, most of which are completely un-necessary and entirely of society's making.

These challenges are due to an "Ick" factor regarding anything to do with sex that's strange or outside our own experience, and very often due to ignorance. The DLP's policy to prevent "Intersex marriages" is an example, they think it must be some sort of Leftist Political Plot To Undermine Society.


Others' lack of knowledge can and does kill us, quite literally, and certainly harms us.

Thanks for doing something that will inform people. Goodness knows, we need all the help we can get, if we're to get rid of discriminatory legislation and legally allow the provision of appropriate health care.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Old Blue Eyes

Actually... not so old.

From Science Daily, Blue-eyed Humans Have A Single, Common Ancestor
“Originally, we all had brown eyes”, said Professor Eiberg from the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. “But a genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a “switch”, which literally “turned off” the ability to produce brown eyes”. The OCA2 gene codes for the so-called P protein, which is involved in the production of melanin, the pigment that gives colour to our hair, eyes and skin. The “switch”, which is located in the gene adjacent to OCA2 does not, however, turn off the gene entirely, but rather limits its action to reducing the production of melanin in the iris – effectively “diluting” brown eyes to blue. The switch’s effect on OCA2 is very specific therefore. If the OCA2 gene had been completely destroyed or turned off, human beings would be without melanin in their hair, eyes or skin colour – a condition known as albinism.
Evolution: it's happening now, as I write this. And this particular mutation is at most 10,000 years old...
The mutation of brown eyes to blue represents neither a positive nor a negative mutation. It is one of several mutations such as hair colour, baldness, freckles and beauty spots, which neither increases nor reduces a human’s chance of survival. As Professor Eiberg says, “it simply shows that nature is constantly shuffling the human genome, creating a genetic cocktail of human chromosomes and trying out different changes as it does so.”
Some of which have more interesting effects than others.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Untitled Picture

Yes, it weirds me out too. Siblings? Couples? Photoshops? MtoF? FtoM? I don't know. Supposedly they're couples.. though my bet's on siblings. Eye colour and earlobe shape differ.

Dan Carlin - Hardcore History Archive

Definitely an "Interesting URL".

Dan Carlin - Hardcore History Archive

Latest episode : Death Throes of the Republic IV
Sulla returns to Rome to show the Republic what REAL political violence looks like. Civil war and deadly partisan payback will pave the way for reforms pushed at sword point. Lots of heads will roll...literally.

Monday 7 February 2011

NSS Department : "“Injustice at Every Turn,”

From prweb:
The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) today released a comprehensive new report, “Injustice at Every Turn,” revealing the depth of discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming people in a wide range of areas, including education, health care, employment, and housing. The study, based on the results from the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (NTDS), was based on responses from over 6,450 participants. The NTDS is the first large-scale national study of discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming Americans, and paints a more complete picture than any prior research to date.

Among the key findings from “Injustice at Every Turn”:
  • Respondents were nearly four times more likely to live in extreme poverty, with household income of less than $10,000.
  • Respondents were twice as likely to be unemployed compared to the population as a whole. Half of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment or other mistreatment in the workplace, and one in four were fired because of their gender identity or expression.
  • While discrimination was pervasive for the entire sample, it was particularly pronounced for people of color. African-American transgender respondents fared far worse than all others in many areas studied.
  • Housing discrimination was also common. 19% reported being refused a home or apartment and 11% reported being evicted because of their gender identity or expression. One in five respondents experienced homelessness because of their gender identity or expression.
  • An astonishing 41% of respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to only 1.6% of the general population.
  • Discrimination in health care and poor health outcomes were frequently experienced by respondents. 19% reported being refused care due to bias against transgender or gender-nonconforming people, with this figure even higher for respondents of color. Respondents also had over four times the national average of HIV infection.
  • Harassment by law enforcement was reported by 22% of respondents and nearly half were uncomfortable seeking police assistance.
  • Despite the hardships they often face, transgender and gender non-conforming persons persevere. Over 78% reported feeling more comfortable at work and their performance improving after transitioning, despite the same levels of harassment in the workplace.
It's a convenience sample, and excludes trans people too poor or otherwise disadvantaged to have Internet access. The number of African-American respondents is only 1/3 of expectation if all other things were equal, so obviously they're not.

It therefore is likely to understate any problems.

The TLDR version, the Executive Summary, is a 1MB Pdf, the full version is 25MB.

General consensus in various Australian Trans networks - the Australian Transsexual Support Network, for example - is that while the details may differ, the situation here is broadly similar.

And the worldwide reaction from Trans people has been "No Sh1t, Sherlock".

Friday 4 February 2011


The Class of '75.

Well, it wasn't quite like that for me... I've had no cosmetic surgery... but, well, see my previous post.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Perpetuating the US Underclass

There are many ways of accomplishing this, of making sure there is a constant pool of cheap, unskilled labour. To shine your shoes, or wait at tables, to open doors or deliver pizzas.

One way is to criminalise behaviours used by the underclass to enjoy themselves. Not too much - just enough so they get a criminal record. Just enough so that few in the underclass have respect for the majesty of the law. Just enough so that doing time in jail is not seen as a big deal, it's something most everyone does at one time or another.

Enough to make sure that predators on the poor are indistinguishable from their prey - predators who will keep them from rising above their station, and stop them from saving. Because any savings will soon be stolen, and wasted.

Another way is to arrange any taxation and social security net so that there are positive financial penalties for being "uppity". That unless you earn more than the average wage, you're actually better off in monetary terms earning minimum wage, and not a cent more. Ideally, if you earn in-between minimum and average wage, you should be financially worse off than earning nothing at all.

Consider these figures for a family of four in Mississippi:

See what I mean?

Note that the actual disposable income of the lowest earners, after food, shelter, and healthcare are paid for, is less than $2 a day per person. For books, for additional education, for clothing, for telecommunications. For school outings, and savings for higher education costs. For Holidays.

Not exactly a life of ease and luxury, is it?

For those who are on an average wage, they actually get less in the way of raw monetary terms. The difference is though, that they have choices in the way the money they're benefiting from is disbursed, and that shouldn't be under-estimated. Not having to shop at places which accept food-stamps. Being able to have more choice over diet. Not being compelled to have their children served meals where "ketchup is a vegetable" at schools.

Not being reminded in a myriad of ways that they're the underclass.

No, I've not turned Lefty in my old age. Or if I have, it's because the Right has moved away from me, not me from it. I still despise the demagogues that "mobilise the vote", using a combination of racism and the politics of envy. Neither do I buy in to the idea that this is all the product of some vast, malign conspiracy. Like Topsy, I think it "just growed".

But from an outsider's viewpoint, any society where such a vast proportion of the population is in jail, or recently released from jail, that society has a problem, no matter what the cause.

It doesn't have to be like this. It's not like this in most places, though there are positive advantages for those living "in the middle" in the USA. Paying less for meals - because the kitchen staff are paid peanuts. Having a gaggle of servants and bellhops, where in other western societies, there's far more automation as those on the bottom are so much more expensive. Rents being cheap, as houses are cheap, because building labour is so cheap. Even in rural Australia, $4350 will pay for 6 months rent, not more. Less in most capitals.

Canberra House and Unit (Apartment) prices:

The houses aren't exactly mansions either.

From TheBlogProf, a graph showing relative tax burden :

This is always a bad sign. It means one of two things: either a welfare state out of control, doing a Robin Hood act. Robbing the Rich to feed the, well, not exactly poor, but the State Bureaucracy that paternalistically manages the poor (for their own good of course)... or it means that income inequality has become pathological. The place now has a 3rd world income demographic, a few obscenely rich oligarchical families owning and controlling the country's wealth - with the politicians owned in fee simple to maintain the status quo.

Both are perversions of the Free Market that has proven so successful in wealth generation in comparison with un-Free systems.

I'm good at diagnosis, but cure, that's another matter. That's up to the US voting public. The discontent has given rise to the "Tea Party", but that can easily be co-opted into expending its strength in unproductive directions. It's not certain that less regulation is the answer - because that will just give the oligarchs free rein to distort the market further. More regulation though is even more dangerous, as it allows the Big Players to raise barriers against entry, and to drive lesser ones to extinction by fixed costs, independent of revenue.

What's needed is for an investigation of what existing regulations have been flouted with impunity, by whom, and how. The Rangel case is a perfect example - the man in charge of the IRS (US Tax Department) cheating on his taxes with no criminal or financial penalty, other than having to give back some of what he stole.

When Laws are only to be obeyed by the Little People - then you have a problem. When you have businesses too big to fail, when you have the very, very wealthiest paying no taxes to speak of, shifting the burden onto the merely rich.. then the problem's bigger still.

Wednesday 2 February 2011


From New Matilda
Residents on Palm Island are preparing for the worst as Cyclone Yasi looks likely to submerge and flatten large parts of the island.

Victoria Laine, who is a registered nurse working in the island’s hospital, said only about 600 of the predominantly Indigenous population of 3000 had left the island, while another 300 had made their way to one of the island’s two evacuation centres. The rest remained in houses that were not built to withstand a cyclone of this strength.

"Much of the housing on the island is what we call informal — so made of tin sheets," she said.

Laine said medical staff and police had made the decision to stay on the island, which is 65km north-west of Townsville, to deal with the cyclone’s aftermath.

If it had hit the USA...