Wednesday, 31 December 2008

I made the Finals

I've just been notified that I've made the Finals in the 2008 Weblog awards, in the category "Best Australia or New Zealand Blog".



2008 Weblog Awards
Best Australia or New Zealand Blog Finalists

Rusty Lime
A.E. Brain
KerrieJean.com.au
The Dawn Chorus
Tim Blair
Screen Play
Media Spy
Gizmodo Australia
Ask Bossy
All Men Are Liars

If they're all as good as this one, they're worth a visit. If they're better, even more so. So please have a look at all of them, and vote as you see fit.

Monday, 29 December 2008

A REAL Biologist

Unlike me, I'm just a gifted amateur, who's learnt a lot in a hurry, out of necessity.

That I have only mediocre knowledge in one particular and very specific area, compared to the "Real Deal" is obvious when you see the work of Dr Veronica Drantz, who I've had the pleasure of corresponding with. She's an educator too, able to explain even the most complex concepts in ways that people like me can comprehend.

Did I mention she's a really nice person too? That helps her do her job, of educating people, and her knowledge is extensive.

Her work that most interests me was the subject of a Special Presentation by her to the Center for Inquiry on November 9th. I wish I could have been there.

The presentation was entitled "Science & Sexuality", and, in her own words:
In this presentation, I answered the following questions:
  • What can science tell us about sexuality?
  • How many sexes are there?
  • What exactly is a female? A male?
  • Is intersexuality normal?
  • What is known about the biology of sexual identity?
  • What is known about the biology of sexual orientation?
Her powerpoint presentations make fascinating reading, and parallel closely - though in even more depth - the lecture by the Professor of Psychology at the ANU who invited me to guest lecture at the end.

I heartily recommend Ronnie's lecture series. It shows just how much evidence there is, and how what had been a mass of unconnected pieces is now coming together.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Today's Battles

I'm not the only one fighting them. And some people manage not to just use words, but actions.

Case in point, this comment at TRANScend Gender :
At the urging and with the help of the Arizona ACLU, Central Arizona Shelter Services, Inc., the largest shelter service provider in Arizona, recently changed its long-standing policy of refusing to allow transgender people to be housed according to their gender identity. In addition, the Prescott Area Women’s Shelter, on whose board I serve, is in the process of adopting a similar policy. I am saddened by Jennifer’s death, and the deaths of all the other homeless people in Austin and elsewhere, who die every year due to our society’s refusal to provide them with the basic necessities of life.

For those interested in urging their local shelters to treat trans people with dignity, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Coalition have created an excellent resource titled Transitioning Our Shelters: A Guide to Making Homeless Shelters Safe for Transgender People.
Not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. It rather puts my own poor efforts to shame.

Still. I will continue, to write the Right. Another (hopefully) informative comment over at God's Politics in reply to a comment that said (amongst other things) this:
Sexual identity, as expressed overtly, is entirely self-defined. So it is with most of the "transgendered" whose mutilations, amputations and massive hormonal drug usage does not erase the male/female chromosomes they carry that identifies them, a priori.
And a comment over at the Grauniad on the Pope's recent statements on Ecology:
Oh well, it took the Church 400 years to rehabilitate Galileo. They usually get it right in the end. I just wish the pope had some better scientific and medical advice, because his pronunciamento is going to kill some of us. It doesn't just lack knowledge, it lacks charity.
...and much more besides. I fear his words will be (mis?)understood. Or understood all too well, nudge nudge wink wink.

The pope was not talking about "transgender" or even "gender theory". He was talking about the concept that gender is distinct from physical sex. He denied this concept as merely an artifact of Man's Pride (for want of a better term), the same urge that led to the Tower of Babel.

Theologically speaking - and how else could the Pope speak, he professes that there are men, and women. Nothing else. Men are attracted to women, and women to men. That is the natural order of things. There is no "gender", only sex.

He states that all other things that appear to contradict a strict Male/Female binary, such as Homosexuality, or "women born in a man's body", "post-operative transsexuals" or any body not obviously male or obviously female, are all against the natural order of Creation, and dangerous. All such are artefacts of Human origin, perfect Divine creations spoilt by Man. Intersexed people may be explained away as the result of Man's tampering with the environment, with chemical and possibly spiritual pollution.

They can only be described in a purely ecological sense as human-created vermin, though that word in merely implied, not stated. Something undesirable and dangerous to the Ecology, the product of Humanity's prideful nature in wishing to be in sole and exclusive control of his own destiny. He does not go so far as to say that such (purely ecologically speaking, no pejorative meaning is implied) "vermin" should be exterminated, he leaves the question of what to do with them open. He merely states that they are a danger to all Humanity, and against the Natural order as ordained by God.

*sigh* No Dog Whistling there, is there?

Yes, this does contradict both Matthew 19:12 and Isaiah 56:3-5, 1500 years of Theological contemplation of Intersex, including the arch-conservative Peter Cantor of C12, as well as most of biological science. It returns us to the days of the Church's founding, and the Emperor Constantine, where Intersexed infants where sealed in boxes and cast into rivers as being against God's Creation. It was recycling the material of defective products to be remoulded into perfect ones. Ecologically sound practice, that's all.

Finally, sometimes in looking at the "Big Picture", we lose sight of the individual issues. Here's one important salvo, which I hope lands on target in wintry Quebec.

The Two Vicars

One, the elected supreme pontiff, selected by a Conclave of Cardinals, after a lifelong process of evaluation and climbing through the Ranks of the Catholic Church until he reaches the position of Vicar of Christ.

The other, the Vicar of Putney, west London.

How come the second gets things so exactly right, while the first gets things so spectacularly wrong, against both the Historical Record, Science and even Scripture itself?

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas to all our Readers

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Translations from the Vatican

Well, sort of. It's mixed. So much is right, yet not in the way I suspect they mean it.

Let's start with the original Italian.
Poiché la fede nel Creatore è una parte essenziale del Credo cristiano, la Chiesa non può e non deve limitarsi a trasmettere ai suoi fedeli soltanto il messaggio della salvezza. Essa ha una responsabilità per il creato e deve far valere questa responsabilità anche in pubblico. E facendolo deve difendere non solo la terra, l’acqua e l’aria come doni della creazione appartenenti a tutti. Deve proteggere anche l’uomo contro la distruzione di se stesso. È necessario che ci sia qualcosa come una ecologia dell’uomo, intesa nel senso giusto. Non è una metafisica superata, se la Chiesa parla della natura dell’essere umano come uomo e donna e chiede che quest’ordine della creazione venga rispettato. Qui si tratta di fatto della fede nel Creatore e dell’ascolto del linguaggio della creazione, il cui disprezzo sarebbe un’autodistruzione dell’uomo e quindi una distruzione dell’opera stessa di Dio. Ciò che spesso viene espresso ed inteso con il termine "gender", si risolve in definitiva nella autoemancipazione dell’uomo dal creato e dal Creatore. L’uomo vuole farsi da solo e disporre sempre ed esclusivamente da solo ciò che lo riguarda. Ma in questo modo vive contro la verità, vive contro lo Spirito creatore.
I include it because many of the translations and interpretations appear unsatisfactory to me. Google's translation is very clunky compared to a human one, though surprisingly good overall.
Poiché la fede nel Creatore è una parte essenziale del Credo cristiano, la Chiesa non può e non deve limitarsi a trasmettere ai suoi fedeli soltanto il messaggio della salvezza.
As the faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian Creed, the Church can not and should not be confined to convey to his people only the message of salvation.
Essa ha una responsabilità per il creato e deve far valere questa responsabilità anche in pubblico.
It has a responsibility for creation and must rely on this responsibility even in public.
E facendolo deve difendere non solo la terra, l’acqua el’aria come doni della creazione appartenenti a tutti.
And he must defend not only the land, water and air as gifts of creation belong to everyone.
Deve proteggere anche l’uomo contro la distruzione di se stesso.
It must also protect humans against the destruction of himself.
È necessario che ci sia qualcosa come una ecologia dell’uomo, intesa nel senso giusto.
It is necessary that there is something like an ecology of man, understood in the right direction.
Non è una metafisica superata, se la Chiesa parla della natura dell’essere umano come uomo e donna e chiede che quest’ordine della creazione venga rispettato.
It is not a metaphysical exceeded, if the Church speaks of the nature of man as man and woman, and calls for the creation of this order is respected.
Qui si tratta di fatto della fede nel Creatore e dell’ascolto del linguaggio della creazione, il cui disprezzo sarebbe un’autodistruzione dell’uomo e quindi una distruzione dell’opera stessa di Dio. Ciò che spesso viene espresso ed inteso con il termine " gender ", si risolve in definitiva nella autoemancipazione dell’uomo dal creato e dal Creatore.
This is in fact of faith in the Creator, given the language of creation, which would be self-contempt and then destruction of the work of God This is often expressed and understood by the term " gender ", is resolved finally in the creation of self-empowerment and the Creator.
L’uomo vuole farsi da solo e disporre sempre ed esclusivamente da solo ciò che lo riguarda.
The man wants to be alone and have always and exclusively alone what he is concerned.
Ma in questo modo vive contro la verità, vive contro lo Spirito creatore.
But living in this way against the truth, lives against the Creator Spirit.
One of the best translations is the Official Vatican Press Release, but it's more than a little clunky.
While highlighting that the Church "cannot and should not limit herself to transmitting just the message of salvation to her faithful", the Holy Father said that it must also "protect the human being against self-destruction. It is necessary to have something like an ecology of the human being, understood in the proper manner. It is not a surpassed metaphysics when Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman, and demands that this order of creation be respected. ... That which is often expressed and understood by the term 'gender', is definitively resolved in the self-emancipation of the human being from creation and the Creator".
A slightly better translation is at the National Catholic Reporter cafe, and it's that one I'll use.
“[The church] must defend not only the earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to all,” he said. “It must also defend the human person against its own destruction. What’s needed is something like a ‘human ecology,’ understood in the right sense. It’s not simply an outdated metaphysics if the church speaks of the nature of the human person as man and woman, and asks that this order of creation be respected.”

“Here it’s a question of faith in creation, in listening to the language of creation, disregard of which would mean self-destruction of the human person and hence destruction of the very work of God,” the pope said. “That which is often expressed and understood by the term ‘gender’ in the end amounts to the self-emancipation of the human person from creation and from the Creator. Human beings want to do everything by themselves, and to control exclusively everything that regards them. But in this way, the human person lives against the truth, against the Creator Spirit.”
Now here's the BBC's slant on it - a reasonable interpretation (though not the only one) that I fear will be all too common.
Pope Benedict XVI has said that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.

He explained that defending God's creation is not limited to saving the environment, but also protecting man from self-destruction.
...
His words, later released to the media, emphasised his total rejection of gender theory.

Pope Benedict XVI warned that gender theory blurs the distinction between male and female and could thus lead to the "self-destruction" of the human race.

(Explanatory note on Gender theory)

Gender theory explores sexual orientation, the roles assigned by society to individuals according to their gender, and how people perceive their biological identity.

Gay and transsexual groups, particularly in the United States, promote it as a key to understanding and tolerance, but the pope disagreed.

When the Roman Catholic Church defends God's Creation, "it does not only defend the earth, water and the air... but (it) also protects man from his own destruction," the pope said.

"If tropical forests deserve our protection, humankind... deserves it no less," the 81-year-old pontiff said, calling for "an ecology of the human being."

It is not "outmoded metaphysics" to urge respect for the "nature of the human being as man and woman," he told scores of prelates gathered in the Vatican's sumptuous Clementine Hall.
So "transsexuals" are a threat to the very survival of humanity, and their existence goes against God's Holy Law. And any discussion of the subject of Gender, of anything other than a strict and concrete divide separating humans into men and women, is equally destructive.

It's a reasonable interpretation, but I hope that that's not what was meant. I hope that a correct reading is that there is a biological reality that should not be ignored in furtherance of ideology - though it's more than troubling that a view so simplistic as to be reasonably labelled "false" is now the official party line.

What's not clear is whether he's implying that the Intersexed do not exist, or that they should not exist. People whose biological reality blurs the line between male and female. People whose existence, if recognised, would be a threat to the survival of Humanity.

The Pope, of all people, should know the inevitable consequences of such ideas.
He played a trivial and distinctly unenthusiastic role in implementing uncomfortably similar ideas when young as an involuntary member of the Hitlerjugend.

Ignoring inconvenient facts can only last for so long, however. In another piece of news from the Vatican, they want to put a piece of embarassing history behind them. From the Times of London :
The Vatican is considering publishing the full record of the 17th century trial of Galileo Galilei for heresy as part of its rehabilitation of the great astronomer.

Monsignor Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, said at the start of the council's annual meeting that only parts of the 1633 trial proceedings had been published, and this had given a false impression. He said it was not widely known for example that the then pontiff, Pope Urban VIII, had never signed the Inquisition's condemnation of Galileo.

Monsignor Ravasi said publishing the full trial proceedings would help to "purify" the past through a "rigorous" examination of the historical record. However there was no point in using the past to continue "polemics". The aim was rather to "look to the future" and achieve greater harmony between science and faith.
...
Earlier this year Nicola Cabibbo, head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and a nuclear physicist, said: "The Church wants to close the Galileo affair and reach a definitive understanding not only of his great legacy but also of the relationship between science and faith."
...
The Catholic Church long ago abandoned its opposition to Galileo's theories, and in 1979 John Paul II apologised for the Inquisition's treatment of him. However in January Pope Benedict XVI called off a visit to Rome University after staff and students accused him of defending the Inquisition's condemnation of Galileo. They cited a speech the Pope made in 1990, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in which he quoted a description of the trial of Galileo as "fair".
My own impression was that Galileo wasn't condemned for heresy so much as rude obnoxiousness and unreasonability. But that's another matter.

It's a bit of a Furphy, an Urban Legend, that "when Galileo presented his telescope to senior cardinals/Jesuits/Aristotelian philosophers/the Inquisition (delete as applicable) they refused to even look through it.". You'll find that although there is some basis of truth in this, it's a very slender thread. I recommend Quodlibeta on the subject.
Finally, the senior Jesuit astronomer Christopher Clavius said of the moons of Jupiter "One would first have to built a spyglass that creates them and only then would it show them." However, the fault was with the Jesuits' first effort to built a telescope. Once they had built themselves a better one, Clavius confirmed that he could see the moons.
May the Vatican acquire a better gender telescope than the rather shonky one provided by one Professor McHugh.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Slavery

This is a story of an incident that happened quite recently, in a "friendly" country. I won't mention its name just yet, let's just say that you can't drive around the largest city in it without seeing oil derricks and "nodding donkeys" pumping out crude oil to feed the US market.

A woman was convicted of a minor crime. But due to either bureaucratic ineptitude or something much more sinister, she was sent not to a female jail, as she should have been, but to a male one, and put in with the general prison population.

A "trusty", a prisoner favoured by the authorities, requested that she be assigned to him. Or to his cell. It amounted to the same thing. Her fate was to be a sex slave, and week after week after week of daily rapes began. She protested to the authorities of course, but they ignored her pleas for help. She resisted as best she could, and soon, despite multiple rapes, her owner got tired of the problems, and passed her on to the next in line.

Again she protested, this time to the medical people treating her for her injuries, but was advised not to complain, or she'd get into real trouble. Out of a misplaced sense of compassion, they didn't even note her complaint on her medical file, for fear of her "getting into trouble". Her new owner was even more violent than the first, and just two days after she'd gone to the medics, hurt her quite badly with a box-cutter.

The authorities could (and did) look the other way at "good" prisoners being awarded sex slaves, but the possession of a knife in a jail was a serious matter. As the result of her experiences, she was moved to a prison for "psychologically troubled" inmates. She wasn't quite sane by then, you see, and lived every day in stark terror that she'd be sent back. Eventually, far too late, she was released on parole.

Quite a story, isn't it? The barbarity that exists in some of the less civilised places on earth, no matter how rich they may be.

Now read the rest of her story, and her quest for Justice.

Today's Battles

A mixed bag this one.

First the Young America's Foundation list of the 10 worst examples of Political Correctness in Academe. My comments are still "awaiting moderation" so may be deemed too upsetting for them. Anyway, here's the long one in defence of West Point inviting one of their alumni to speak. An alumnus who is transsexual:
No-one with an ounce of rationality would disagree with most items on the list. Except, perhaps, to say that even more egregious examples can be found, such as the infamous banning of funding for Cystic Fibrosis because it was a “White Male” disease.

One item though detracts from the article’s credibility. It’s usually Moonbat liberals who are - if not ignorant, then not well versed in scientific issues, and who allow emotion and irrational belief to cloud reason.

I refer to the item about West Point. No facts are adduced as to why this is so awful. It rather reminds me of the articles that were published prior to 1950, and the de-segregation of the armed forces, denigrating black veterans. As conservatives, we should not deny the errors of the past - we leave that to Moonbats. And the facts are that about 60% of transgendered people, mostly women, have served in some capacity in or with the armed forces. I can think of no other minority group that has such a high level of service to the country, or to whom the words “Duty, Honor, Country” mean so much.

So what is “transsexuality”? Is it some peculiar sexual perversion? An “alternate lifestyle’? Yet another Liberal attack on our cherished institutions - and goodness knows, there’s enough of them?

I better explain from the basics. “Men are Men, Women are Women”, everyone knows that. It’s as obvious as the world being flat, and the Sun orbiting the Earth. And for most purposes, all three statements are true. When we navigate using a map, we can treat the Earth as being locally flat. We talk about “sunrise” and “sunset”. They’re both good enough approximations for most purposes. Similarly, 98.3% of the population is either wholly and unambiguously male, or wholly and unambiguously female. Of the 1.7% who aren’t, it usually takes a laboratory or extensive medical tests to find that out, and most are effectively asymptomatic, though they may be infertile or even sterile.

Such people are “Intersexed”, and there’s hundreds of Intersex conditions, ranging from the negligible (does it really matter if 10% of your body has female chromosomes when 90% has male ones?) to the spectacular. The most spectacular are the conditions such as 5alpha-reductase-2 deficiency (5alpha-RD-2) and 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-3 deficiency (17beta-HSD-3) which cause all infants to look (somewhat, mostly, or completely) female at birth, but the genetic males change to look (somewhat, mostly or completely) male by the time they’re 25. Male to female natural changes happen too, but they’re less than 1% of such changes in humans, and are not well understood as yet. In fact, about 30% of Intersex conditions are “Idiopathic”, meaning “we have no idea what the cause is”, just that they happen.

So what has this to do with Transsexuality? Autopsies and MRI scans have confirmed that transsexuals have cross-gendered neuro-anatomy. They quite literally have male minds and brains and female bodies, or the reverse. Often they have other Intersex conditions too, but this isn’t universal.

This isn’t exactly common knowledge. Such indelicate and embarrassing matters are hardly the topic of breakfast conversation, and few people include “Psychoendoneurology” or “The journal of endocrinal obstetrics’ in their bedtime reading. But the data is there, on the Net, through PubMed and other sources.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, so here’s a small selection of the articles on the subject to show that I’m not trying to sell the usual Leftist snake-oil. Please research the matter yourself.

Gender change in 46,XY persons with 5alpha-reductase-2 deficiency and 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-3 deficiency. by Cohen-Ketternis

A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to Transsexuality by Zhou et al.

Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus by Kruijver et al:

fMRT zur Diagnose bei Transsexualität geprüft (An Examination of the use of fMRT for diagnosing Transsexuality) (ArzteZeitung, 2006)

A sex difference in the hypothalamic uncinate nucleus: relationship to gender identity by
A. Garcia-Falgueras A and D.F. Swaab.

Male-to-female transsexuals show sex-atypical hypothalamus activation when smelling odorous steroids. by Berglund H, Lindström P, Dhejne-Helmy C, and Savic I.

And so on and so on. Most of the hard proof has come in in the last 10 years, though a biological cause has long been conjectured. Before 1996, it was assumed (in the absence of evidence to the contrary) to be a purely psychological issue.

Transsexuality causes *intense* distress. The issue is not so much about sexuality as other instinctive behaviour - maternal instinct. natural gait, communications skills, instinctive ballistic calculations and so on, all areas where sexually differentiated thinking patterns are obvious, and which are not culturally conditioned. There’s no biological reason why “blue is for boys, pink is for girls”, that’s cultural. But despite what Moonbat Gender Studies departments hold as articles of faith, men and women do differ in their neurology, and no neurologist disputes this. The trouble is, some women are born looking like men, and some men are born looking like women. This feels terribly perverse to someone so afflicted, and the only cure is to align body and brain/mind through hormonal and surgical intervention.

Having such a person, who has overcome such challenges, has a long and distinguished military career, and wishes to “give back” to her alma mata speak about the issue isn’t “political correctness” in any way, shape or form.

regards,
Zoe E Brain
(Naval Combat System Architect, former tutor at the Australian Defence Force Academy, and one of the handful of well documented cases of natural male-to-female transitions on record)
Onto GetReligion, where I do something few people discussing Christianity do - actually read what the Bible says, instead of believing what "everyone knows", including many preachers who are no theologians. I quote the usual - Matthew 19:12, Isaiah:56:3-5, but also John 9:1-12, which I think is particularly relevant to some Intersex conditions - my own included.

Not that I'm a Christian. I just believe in many of His teachings, the ones that haven't been too distorted by misinterpretion and Pharisaic "obey the letter of the law while ignoring the intent" philosophy. I remain an Agnostic with a tendency to commit Buddhism.

And finally over at Queerty, the Gay news blog. "Should Doctors Still Consider Transgenders to Be Suffering a 'Disorder'?"

Well, yes and no. I describe my answer in detail as follows:
The distress caused by having a brain (actually the lymbic nucleus) cross-gendered (in some ways) compared to (most or all of) the rest of the body is a very real and serious psychological condition, comparable to the distress caused by some hideous congenital anomalies, coupled with biologically-based sexual dysfunction. But the neural mismatch itself is not, it is a natural variation caused by any of a number of genetic predispositions, coupled with an anomalous hormonal environment in the womb. Both the genetic, and the hormonal anomalies are necessary, either on their own has no effect. We think. We’re not absolutely sure, it’s just that we have lots of good evidence for this, and only a paucity of extremely poor evidence against.

Until the distinction is made between the congenital biological variation that is acute transsexuality, and the syndrome of distress it causes, then the social stigma and moral opprobrium will remain. Worse, effective treatment may be withheld, either because of unfounded doubts as to its effectiveness, or concerns that anyone who is "mentally ill" cannot possibly give informed consent for radical surgery. Such problems exist today, simply because GID in its totality is erroneously seen, and described in the DSM’s later incarnations, as purely a psychiatric concern.
That did lead to a follow-up question, on the nature if gender, which I think deserved answering at length.
Transsexual people are strongly gendered, but a significant number of Intersexed and non-Intersexed people are not. So although Transsexuals fit a binary model of gender extraordinarily well (for if they didn't, they wouldn't suffer the distress they do), we must be aware that the binary model is an approximation that fits most, but not all. It doesn't fit everyone. Most Intersexed people in particular fit a binary model, but some don't. We must be careful to respect Intersexed men as being men, Intersexed women as being women, but also that minority of Intersexed people who identify as neither.

Many transsexual people, being strongly gendered, and having had their masculinity or femininity questioned in the most disrespectful terms by others, object to any "in-between' category, a category they have often been forced into by others; "men, women, transsexuals". Which is exactly wrong, the opposite of what the situation truly is. It's because they fit the binary model so well, so much so that even having a cross-gendered body is insufficient to coerce them into an inappropriate gender "box", that they have the issues they do.

We must not force people into arbitrary boxes against the principles of medical facts, objective biology and even common humanity, strictly on ideological grounds.
NeoCon, Religious, Gay... all need information, then they can make up their own minds. From the Sacred to the Profane.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Two Point Eight Degrees

I could have titled this post "Death by Religious Exemption". Or "Semper Fidelis?" Or even "Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin".

A former US Marine was found dead, apparently from exposure, on the steps of a Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas on Wednesday morning. Meteorological records show an overnight low of 2.8c, slightly up from the -1.7C the day before.

Why was she, a well-known character and perennial mayoral candidate homeless? Well, those who are Transgendered are often so. But why could she not at least sometimes avail herself of a homeless shelter, the one run in Austin by the Salvation Army? Because they would have put her amongst men, many of them of less than upstanding moral character. Austin has laws in place that prohibit discrimination in many ways - but religious organisations are exempt. They are allowed to be.. selective.. in their charity. They are allowed to pass by the wayside, when others are not.

From Texas Civil Rights Review :
Marti Bier, policy aide for Austin City Council Member Randi Shade, said, "Something Jennifer would never talk about, but was a reality for her, is that she is a transwoman living in a transphobic society.
Homelessness in the trans-community is a really big problem, and one that goes ignored. There are no laws in Texas protecting transgender people, whether from job discrimination, housing discrimination or hate crimes.

"There was really nowhere for Jennifer Gale to go to protect herself from the cold last night," said Bier. "The Salvation Army (the only shelter in town that takes in women) would not let her in there unless she was grouped with the men (which includes sleeping with, and showering with, other homeless men). They would make her use her male birth name and completely disregard, and disrespect, her identity as a trans-woman. There is so much to be learned from Jennifer Gale, and so much to be worked on in our community."

Equality Texas, the Transgender Education Network of Texas, and City of Austin officials are now working together to address changes in policy, or enforcement of existing policy, that might prevent another tragic loss of life. The City of Austin's non-discrimination ordinance is inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity with regard to employment and public accommodations. The ordinance includes certain religious and private club exemptions, which will be reviewed for applicability to the delivery of shelter services for the homeless.
The motto of the US Marine Corps - and once a Marine, always a Marine - is Semper Fidelis - Always Faithful. Jennifer Gale was always faithful, to her self, to her religion, and to her country and the Great State of Texas.

Her country and state though were less than faithful to her. On that cold December night, they were weighed in the balance. As were those who provide help to the homeless - with some "religious" exemptions. Mene mene tekel upharsin.

The last view the world will have of Jennifer Gale is in a TV excerpt. The day before she died, she sang "Silent Night, Holy Night" to the Austin City Council. And now she is Silent, frozen to death on the steps of a Church that Night, like so many others she worked so hard to help. Always Faithful.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

The Next Big Thing

My regular column, The Next Big Thing in TechLifePost this week deals with the consequences of microwave radars that can see through clothing - and in more detail than the manufacturers would like publicised.

I'll be blogging about this later, and in some more detail, with URLs to the various stories about how this technology is being introduced in Europe and elsewhere. It's a bit of a worry, frankly. Especially to the Intersexed.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

COSYS, ISUS and Herding Cats

It's now been nearly 13 years since I was in the Frei- und Hanse- Stadt Bremen, but I still have many happy memories of living and working there.

The main two systems I was involved with - one as Co-Chief Architect, the other as a sort of "Grand Vizier" and Fire-fighter, allocated to crisis points, were the COSYS family of Naval Combat Systems, and the ISUS-90 Submarine Combat System.

Both are described in brief in Norman Friedman's book, The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapon Systems, something of a Bible in the Industry. I last had a chat to Norman Friedman, the doyen of all things naval and electronic, about 15 years ago, in the Royal Navy Equipment Exhibition at the old gunnery school at Whale Island, Portsmouth.

The book itself has a heavy Thunk factor.
Last month, a suspiciously large package from Subsim arrived at the post office. Was it a torpedo? No, it was the 2006 edition of The Naval Institute Guide to World Naval Weapon Systems. A $250, seven pound hardcover monster of a book - the most expensive book published by the Naval Institute. What had I gotten myself into?

Despite its title, and the cover showing missiles and bombs flying around, WNWS '06 is an encyclopedic textbook of naval weapons and technology. Virtually every weapon and electronic system used aboard warships and naval aircraft today is covered in detail; often more detail than anyone would ever need. Everything from electro-optical systems, minehunting equipment, combat direction systems, radar, sonar, ECM and ESM systems, mines, countermeasures, guns, fire control systems, missiles, ASW rockets, torpedoes, to sonobuoys, is covered. Despite being about 200 pages shorter than Combat Fleets, this book massive. I was shocked by its tremendous scope when I first browsed through it. I'm still a bit bewildered.
Um... to me the systems are "described in brief", but I guess that's a view only a professional in the area would hold. To anyone else, possibly a bit much to handle. Friedman is not just good, he's the best, without peer or equal.



The COSYS family is described on page 73. The only error is in who which firm was the lead in the project. Friedman assumes the "CO" in "COSYS" is for Oerlikon-Contraves, the famous Swiss manufacturer. The truth is a bit more prosaic - the acronym is for COmbat SYStem. And there is a small omission - the COSYS-200T1 variant for the Royal Thai Navy, a massive 16-console system that was the ultimate, a system designed for an aircraft-carrier. Most of the consoles would be devoted to aircraft operations and recovery, the rest is basically a reduced 8-console destroyer system with many redundant bits removed. I know, I wrote the 200-page basic requirements specification document single-handedly. From the looks of it, it still might get a look-in, as the Spanish equipment supplied by the (Spanish) shipyard Bazan has a less than stellar performance, especially as regards maintenance.



The other system I was most involved in, though I did do a bit on some minehunting gear, was the ISUS-90 Integrated Submarine Combat System described on page 138. It was consultancy work in connection with this system that led me to Haifa Naval base in Israel some 18 months ago. This has enjoyed some considerable commercial success, with many sales since the book was written. Even though I say it myself, it is an outstanding piece of kit - though developing it caused me a few headaches. Leading a mixed team of Israelis, Germans, and Australians in a technically challenging and utterly crucial area was, well, like this:

There aren't that many people in the industry worldwide, and most of us know each other. Or knew, as I've been out of it for a while, doing Rocket Science, and recently, research. Stealth was never an option for me.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Neurosensorics, Neuroprosthetics, and Neurocomputing

An interesting paper was given at the International Electron Device Meeting recently. From The Register :
The first talk in this morning's opening Plenary Session was "Electronic and Ionic Devices: Semiconductor Chips with Brain Tissue." Yes, you read that correctly: brain tissue. For half an hour, Peter Fromherz of Munich's Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry held a tough crowd's close attention as he described his work on silicon-to-neuron interfaces.
...
The brain is an interconnected morass of neurons. Any comprehensive electronic interface with it would need not only to have physical contact with, as Fromherz said, "hundreds of thousands or millions of contact sites." But those sites would have to be stable both in placement and biochemical interaction. You don't want them firing up the wrong neurons, poking them destructively, or chemically interacting with them in nasty ways, do you?

Fromherz cited three main directions for hybrid-neuroelectronics research: neurosensorics, neuroprosthetics, and neurocomputing. The first investigates devices that could study the brain, the second focuses on creating devices that could replace or supplement organic functions such as sight and hearing, and the third explores using brain tissue to inform computing design and function.

As you might imagine, that third area - neurocomputing - is the furthest away, seeing as how tissue/chip interface development is still in its infancy. You can forget about organic computers floating in Mason jars for the time being.
Pity... sorry. I guess there's more of the Mad Scientist in me than I thought... Moving right along.
Importantly, Fromherz's chip/cell communication could be conducted with no corrosive nor electrochemical damage to either the chip or the cell. However, that slug-neuron success was the only giant step in the development of a chip/cell interface for 17 years. It was only earlier this year that the team managed to pull off essentially the same feat with much smaller and far more delicate mammalian neurons, in this case taken and cultured from those great sacrificers for humanity: lab rats.
That's a Big Deal, more so than would appear at first glance. In fact, it's a huge leap in the technology, and gets us 90-something percent of the way to being able to interface human minds directly with digital devices.

But just because we can do something doesn't necessarily mean we should do it.
Back in 1991, the idea of electronics being able to cause brain-cell activity was unsettling to some observers. Fromherz, in fact, read to the assemble engineers a worried comment from one observer from that time: Now that "a functioning neuro-net can be physically attached to a silicon chip," the observer said, we should explore the "philosophical and spiritual consequences." Fromherz brushed aside such concerns, and the audience chuckled in agreement.

Don't be surprised, though, that when this type of brain/electronic interface becomes more controllable, interconnectable, and manageable - and it most surely will - such concerns will be debated.
And so they should be! Now I'm very firmly on the side of developing such technology as fast as possible. The great good that could come from it, that would come from it, outweighs any risks. But those risks are real, and not confined to some metaphysical issue of Things Man Was Not Meant To Know. Neurosensorics, if they go wrong, could be terribly destructive. They could also be used, or misused, to make "aversion therapy" particularly effective. To remove paedophillic sadism... or to induce it. As the brain is somewhat plastic, it's likely that neuroprosthetics that go beyond replacing limbs, or working around broken spinal chords, but help Alzheimers and Parkinsons patients, could actually "change their minds" in ways unknowable. The risks are real, and just because they are outweighed doesn't mean they should be ignored. Experimentation must be carefully monitored - though not shackled - by ethics committees. Hopefully not including those whose religious beliefs cause them to condemn Science as inherently evil. That's a risk too, and from past history, a greater one.
But there are great benefits to be obtained from chip/cell interactions as well. At tomorrow's IEDM, for example, two papers will be presented that will detail recent neuroprosthetic research.

The first, "Systems Design of a High-Resolution Retinal Prosthesis" by J. Weitland and his crew from the University of Southern California, will explain how they have managed to fit 1000 light-sensing electrodes to be installed in a tiny in-eye device, coupled with an advanced image-processing technology, and powered remotely. Their goal: greatly improved artificial sight for the vision-impaired.

The second, "Microelectronics Meets the Brain: Towards Implantable Neural Communications Interfaces" by Y.-K. Song and his cohorts at Brown University, will discuss "thought-to-action telemetry." At the core of their work is an active sensor that's surgically implantable with one element below the skull and that interfaces with the brain, and another above the skull but below the skin that's able to communicate with telemetric devices. The entire system, according to the paper's authors, will be safe and highly reliable.
It was in January, 2007 that I predicted Cyborgs within a Decade. Looks like we're on track.

Hmmmm.... I might just write about this in my column, The Next Big Thing at TechLifePost.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Today's Battles

Actually, a few from the last few days. It's so easy to lose track.

On the Blog of Hilarity :
This is one of the weirdest things I’ve seen this year. A German 12 year-old named Tim Petras underwent a sex change four years ago, making him now the foxy 16 year-old girl Kim Petras. This is shim below.
...
Look, I’ve seen a lot of f*cked up things in my life including but not limited to a man having sex with a dead moose (Dad was always a great hunter) but WHAT THE F*CK. What kind of parent allows their prepubescent child to make that sort of decision? How come this kid can look like this but usual transexuals look like Dennis Rodman with Nerf balls shoved in his chest?...
Honestly, it’s scary to have sex with “women” knowing that this sort of deceptive little thing is out there....
Tongue may have been in cheek, but if he think's he's a wit, he's half right. Twit.

At the Statesman-Journal, there's an interesting conjecture that the Westboro Baptist Church is all some kind of Plot To Make "Transgendering" Acceptable and to denigrate Christianity. Actually... that's a lot more believable than the reality. But alas, the Westboro Baptists, whatever else they might be, are genuine. Even I don't think they have anything to do with Christianity, true or otherwise though.
The infinite wisdom of God makes no mistakes. Men are men, women are women.
Er... well any reader of this blog will realise that it's not quite that simple. So I did a bit of exposing of facts. The writer of this interesting conjecture no doubt has their heart in the right place, and perhaps if they knew a bit more about the situation, their views would change. Or perhaps not. You have to try though.

And at the New Mexico Daily Lobo, there's still plenty of those who would rather not be reminded that TS people are being slain at a rate of 2 a month in the USA.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Today's Battle

Transexual woman ran out of town

12:00a.m. 11th December 2008 | By Amy Remeikis


A transexual has fled the Sunshine Coast after an alleged vicious attack on a Caloundra street left her afraid to venture outside.

Alice (not her real name), was born male but has identified as a female since she was five.

On Tuesday evening, Alice, 40, said she and her daughter, 13, set out along Landsborough Parade in Golden Beach to buy groceries to prepare for dinner.

Sometime before 5.30pm, Alice said she passed a small group of women pushing a pram accompanied by a gentleman who she alleged was abusive to her as she walked by.

Alice said she heard what the man said and questioned the man about it.

"He just started screaming abuse at me, swearing and calling me a 'trannie fag'," Alice said.

Alice said she had been previously advised to record such attacks.

"I held up my phone to record what he was saying and he turned physically abusive," she said.

She said the man chased her into a nearby playground where he allegedly threatened anyone who came to her aid.

She alleged the man smashed a bottle and hit a man who had tried to protect her.

Another car arrived at the scene and a man holding a base ball bat stepped out of the car and allegedly chased Alice down the street.

Alice said she called for help from those driving by and a family eventually stopped and took Alice to the police station.

She said she had lived full time as a woman since she was 14 and has medical approval for a sex change operation but can not afford the surgery.

Alice, her best friend and her daughter have spent the past 18 months travelling around Australia.

She says once knowledge of her transsexual nature is made public, she is chased from the towns.

The Sunshine Coast, she said, had been no different.

"We are leaving the Sunshine Coast though because I am afraid to walk down the street," she said.

"I don't want to leave my room.

"I can't understand why normal people act like this.

I harm no one but I am always subjected to people's abuse because they don't like me for who I am."

Police have charged a man with one count of public nuisance and two counts of common assault.

He will appear in the Maroochydore Magistrates Court on January 6.

The story has since been condensed and re-written, but is available at the Sunshine Coast Daily. No other paper has picked it up.

I've contacted the reporter, Amy Remeikis, as follows:
Re : Your recent story about "Alice" at
http://www.thedaily.com.au/news/2008/dec/11/transexual-woman -ran-out-town-caloundra/


Could you please inform her about some resources that may be of help:
----
Australian Transgender Support Association of Queensland Inc.

http://atsaq.com/

ATSAQ can be contacted on -
Phone: +61 7 3843 5024 (8am - 6pm)
Email: trans.atsa@bigpond.com
PO Box 212
NEW FARM QLD 4005
Australia
---
(Qld) LGBT Police Liaison Officers

Police Liaison Officers to the GLBT community are available to discuss your issues in confidence. For details about the officers located at the closest police station.
Mobile: +61 419 768 732

http://www.police.qld.gov.au/programs/community/lgbti/lias_off.htm
---
Australian Transsexual Support Network

http://au.groups.yahoo.com/group/atsn/
Feel free to give "Alice" my e-mail address, or at least refer her to my website:
http://aebrain.blogspot.com

My thanks for writing this story, and I hope you can tell her that she's not alone, and that she doesn't have to go through all this.

Regards, Zoe E Brain
ATSN and ATSA(Qld) have been informed.

This is not acceptable in this country. And we're not going to accept it. Nor let the story be buried in a regional newspaper.

One thing though... perfect strangers came to her aid. We must remember that - that some exist who are willing to put themselves at personal risk to help us. And that number is increasing. If any of them get to read this article, then I hope they will accept my thanks.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Outrim, Ogre, Chthulhu and Christmas



True Geeks will recognise something familiar...

This is horrific enough, but this is just plain wrong...

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

International Human Rights Day


Today, I won't be writing about matters of great worth and moment. Neither the Space Programs that will, in the long term, be Humanity's salvation and future, nor the struggle for Human Rights that has taken up so much of my time since May 2005.

I will be writing about something intensely personal: an end-of-year concert where my son, as part of Year 1-2, took part in a chorus with perhaps more enthusiasm than skill, but songs sung from the heart.

He's in the top row, 7th from the left.

I will be writing about how I live in a place, and at a time on this planet where there is, by and large, Freedom of Speech and Expression - at least, unless the current government's misbegotten proposals to "filter" the Internet are adopted. I live in a place where one may carry a Bible - or a Koran - openly, and express one's religion (or lack thereof) openly. I live in a place where there is a decent social security net - imperfect but where no-one starves - and none are denied some minimal access to medical care. Most of all, I live in a place free of fear, where I can blog about controversial subjects without the expectation of having my house firebombed, nor a knock on the door from the Secret Police, nor some nutter who would like to see me exterminated liable to riddle me with bullets. The Four Freedoms.

I live in a place and at a time where I can meet a colleague from Uni, someone who is only vaguely aware of my medical history, and talk about our respective children at the school and talk without shame, just some hilarity at the unusual nature of the situation.

I nearly teared up when the performance, after music and dance from all continents, had a section where children with large red crosses or the words UN gave aid and succour to others. Our ideals are so high, and we sometimes fall so short in reality. 65 years ago, it was not the time to explain to children that our valiant Allies, the Russians, were under a dictatorship differing only in degree, and not kind, from the monstrous Evil that was Nazism. And now is not the time to explain about the pest of Anti-Semitism that infests the International Red Cross, nor the cupidity, ignorance, incompetence and corruption that permeates the various UN relief efforts. They will learn soon enough.

Mostly I just gave thanks that my little boy was there, performing with the rest.
We are One
But we are many
And from all the lands on Earth we come
We share a dream
And sing in one voice
I am
You are
We are Australian
In this context, it's not the many failings that are important. It's the Dream. One we, here, now, in Australia, live. Imperfectly - goodness only knows I know all about that. But more so than not. A happy place.

I guess I wrote about International Human Rights Day after all. A Children's Concert is closer to the Spirit, embodying the Ideals, than all the fine words and posturing of all the UN's politicians put together. And my little son was part of it. I am proud of him, and so very thankful and glad that I was there to witness him singing. It's only Human of course. And it's most certainly Right.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

A Letter from the Human Rights Commissioner

Following up on my previous post...

Message about the Commission's project on the legal recognition of sex in documents and government records


I have received some enquiries about the sex and gender diversity project, in response to a media report that suggests the Commission is secretly circulating a proposal to make intersex a third category for documents and government records.

This is incorrect.

As you will be aware, the Commission's sex and gender diversity project has been examining the legal recognition of sex in documents and government records. As part of this project, the project created an online blog - called Sex Files - in order to discuss some of the issues to do with legal recognition and to involve the sex and gender diverse community in the development of recommendations. This included posting publically some initial proposals for reform on the Sex Files blog. We did this because we wanted those involved in the project to provide valuable feedback. The responses we received help to inform the development of a report on legal recognition in documents and government records. The final report is due to be completed and launched early next year.

As indicated by some of the enquiries, the initial proposals for reform put up on the blog included a suggestion for a category of intersex for legal documents. However, as raised with us on the blog, this is not an acceptable proposal for a variety of reasons. As a result the report will not propose a category of intersex for documents but instead proposes to recommend that people be able to choose between male, female or unspecified.

I hope that this explains how we have tried to respond to people's concerns. I have discussed one of our draft recommendations here, in advance of the report, only because I recognise that the misrepresentation in the media may have caused some distress. The full report, including other recommendations, will not be available until the report is published early next year. If you are on the sex and gender diversity mailing list already, you will receive notice of the report when it is finalised.

Thank you for your participation to date.

Graeme Innes AM

Human Rights Commissioner
What was it I said...
And while we're at it, rather than "Male, Female or Intersex" on the birth certificates, how about "Male, Female or Unspecified".
Sounds good to me.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Masculine, Feminine, or <?

From the Daily Telegraph :
The Federal Government's human rights arm plans to invent a new official status called "intersex" adding it to male and female as a legally recognised gender.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission wants people to be able to change their gender on their passports and driving licences even if they do not undergo surgery.
...
The extraordinary proposals are contained in a discussion paper quietly issued to transgender and transexual advocates by the commission, a statutory body that advises the Government on such matters.

The paper, entitled Sex Files - The legal recognition of sex: Proposed reform, says the introduction of the new "intersex" gender is a "key feature of the reform proposal being developed by the commission".

"Recognition of intersex: Persons who cannot or do not identify as either male or female would be able to choose to be identified on their birth certificate and passport as intersex," it says.

"A person who cannot or chooses not to undergo surgery would not be automatically ineligible to request a change in their legal sex."
The draft Proposal hasn't just been circulated to a number of "special interests", but is available online in Word format on the Human Rights Commission website.

In fact, a "third gender" category has been available on passports and in some states since 2003, as the result of a court case involving Alex MacFarlane. The "third sex" proposal would merely regularise the situation and make treatment across the states consistent.

There are a number of legal difficulties though. Here's what I wrote in commentary to the HRC on the proposal:
Excellent recommendations, striking a balance between ideals and what can be practically achieved in the medium term.

I Am Not A Lawyer, and I hope Ms Wallbeck and other legal professional may comment, but...

Trying to get the states and territories to co-ordinate on such a controversial issue will be like herding cats. Various large and influential religious groups will have severe bovinosity - they'll have large and influential religious cows. Also conniptions. That would happen anyway, but some state governments would feel the pressure more than others.

It is not clear that the Federal Government has the constitutional power to make such rules though. Now it is just barely possible they may have, via the Universal Declaration of Human Rights via the Yogyakarta principles.(Section 51.xix) or alternatively, with the agreement of the states (ignoring territories) 51.xxxviii.

See http://www.aph.gov.au/SEnate/general//constitution/par5cha1.htm

Note that in Australia, the declaration is *not* self-executing. Australia had the following reservation at signature to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights:
"Declaration:

"Australia has a federal constitutional system in which legislative, executive and judicial powers are shared or distributed between the Commonwealth and the constituent States. The implementation of the treaty throughout Australia will be effected by the Commonwealth, State and Territory authorities having regard to their respective constitutional powers and arrangements concerning their exercise." "


So by the reservation, it's arguable that the Commonwealth has already delegated its power over compliance to the states, and they will implement the legislation in their own sweet time at some unspecified future date.

But again, IANAL.
One of the issues in regularising the existing situation is the fact that those neither male nor female are in a legal limbo when it comes to a lot of legislation. The current Marriage Act states that marriage is between a man and a woman - so one can assume that those who are biologically, actually, and legally neither are denied this human right. Their position as regards Equal opportunities legislation is also as clear as mud.

Most Intersexed people are intersexed women, or intersexed men. Women and Men for short. Only a handful are not, and I have heard it argued by some IS people that such tiny minorities are negligible.

I disagree - for I've heard exactly the same arguments, in exactly the same terms, concerning all Intersexed people. We, of all people, should know enough not to take the same inhuman line as regards others who we don't understand.

This proposal has also caused some extreme concern in both Intersexed and Transsexual groups. The fear is that men and women with a minor somatic anomaly will be categorised by others, quite against their will, as "Intersexed", and so denied human rights on that basis.

Given the past treatment of such people by medical and legal authorities, this fear is by no means unreasonable. It needs addressing. Here's what I wrote about the subject on another discussion group, where grave fears and even outrage had been expressed:
Having an official "3rd sex" merely regularises the situation for the tiny, miniscule minority - most notably Alex MacFarlane et al - who have X on their BCs out of their own choice. Or at least, that is the intent.

I think this should be an option for Intersexed people who identify as neither male nor female. It most certainly and emphatically should NOT be a "default' for Intersexed people, most of whom identify as either Male or Female. There is a strong danger here, and we must tread most carefully. It also has some interesting legal ramifications, vis a vis marriage etc. Again, I cannot stress too highly that this must be an exceptional and entirely voluntary SELF-categorisation, not something others put us into. This categorisation is entirely consistent with existing international law, and the ICAO standards for passports. We must be extremely vigilant that the APO and others do not use it as a tool of oppression.

Basically, an intersexed woman is a woman, an intersexed man is a man. Only those intersexed people who are androgenous or neutrius, neither M nor F, would find this categorisation useful to them. They are few, but they exist.
For an example of one such, a very brave and admirable young human being, see the eFeminate blog, where she chronicles her journey of self-discovery.

You might notice that I singled out the APO - the Australian Passports Office - for special mention. I think that in view of my own experiences with them, they richly deserve it. In matters great and small, whether with goodwill or malice, they manage to make mistakes. For example, here is an excerpt from correspondence by Kathy Anne Noble with them:
Kathy,

X is for indeterminate sex. Following is the text from our manual which explains the term indeterminate sex. Unfortunately, it cannot be used for persons who identity as both male and female but is limited to those people whose sex cannot be physically determined at birth and their birth certificate records that fact. Australia closely follows ICAO standards and would not at this time contemplate moving away from those standards.

Indeterminate Sex
The term ”indeterminate” sex refers to persons whose sex cannot be determined as either male or female. This status is determined by the relevant Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. In accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standard for unspecified sex, the symbol X in the sex field is to be used in such cases. This sex identifier will be used in cases where a person presents a birth certificate with the sex recorded as “Indeterminate” or the equivalent.

Within the new few weeks (depending on our IT people) the APO website should contain some FAQ for sex and gender diverse passport applicants*. We hope it will be of assistance.

Kathy Anne Noble
Er No. X stands for "Indeterminate, Unspecified or "non-specified" (emphasis added). Instead of allowing reasonable latitude for exceptional cases, they in their infinite wisdom have decided unilaterally to lock it down to matters of state birth registration, and not medical reality. The ICAO's wording was carefully chosen to allow human judgement and basic humanity to play a role. The APO carefully and deliberately removed those from consideration. We're not asking them to "move away" from the standards, but to follow them. From ICAO Document 9303
Sex of the passport holder, M for males, F for females, and < for non-specified.
And while we're at it, rather than "Male, Female or Intersex" on the birth certificates, how about "Male, Female or Unspecified". That way allowing gender to be re-determined later in life, and to allow some "slop" in the system to cater for Hard Cases. Or we will have Bad Law.



* - Oh yes, that "few weeks" bit was written on or before August. Their site still has nothing. But that is only to be expected.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Today's Battle

In reply to L.H.Crum at the New Mexico Daily Lobo
He states
One could make the argument that I am part of a minority because I enjoy rugby. However, I don't need to promote a "rugby day of remembrance"....

My reply:
L.H.Crum completely misunderstands the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Perhaps the name should have clued him in. It is not a Day of Celebration, nor a Day of Pride. It is not a day for espousing any particular cause. It is not even a day for demanding basic Human Rights.

It is the Day where we remember our dead.

It is the one day of the year, the only day of the year, where we gather in all solemnity to remember those of us who have been tortured and slain, butchered, crucified, burnt, or gunned down, not because of anything we've done, nor of our beliefs, but because of who we are.

It is the one day where we read out their names, and ages, some as young as ten this year, in voices that shake with emotion and shared grief.

Those who would deny us this day want us to to die in silence. They do not feel comfortable being made aware of the fact that every month two transgendered Americans are butchered without mercy. They wish that if we are to be butchered, that we just die quietly and not stain the carpets with our blood.

We do not ask others to remember our dead, for they are ours, not theirs. We do not even make this a day for taking action to stop the carnage. But although there are many who would deny us the right to live, to exist, we will not die quietly, nor without reminding others that we are dying, every few weeks another of our number slain by bigotry and hatred. Even if we are denied the right to exist, we demand the right to have our deaths noted and not forgotten by our own. Even if the rest of the world does not, We remember Our dead.

What others do about that remembrance is up to their own consciences.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The Next Big Thing

Over at TechLifePost, a prognostic article I wrote about the likely near-future of Space Development.

I wrote it before the questionnaire I mentioned in the previous post was made public, but the writing has been on the wall for some time now. Now things could change of course, my reading of tea-leaves is only 70% or so accurate at best, but that's really the way I think things will go. Had the Ares-I project not been in severe technical trouble, had off-the-shelf components actually been adequate, things may have been different. But they're not.

The New Race for the Moon?

From Moon Daily:
India will be able to send a manned mission to moon by the year 2020 if everything goes as planned, Indian Space Research Organisation Chairman G Madhavan Nair has said.
That's one heck of a big IF.
"If everything goes as per the plan we will be ready to send a man to moon by 2020", he added. "On one side we have the capacity and technology, on the other side we need to provide training to a human being to survive the condition on moon and the zero gravitation," he added.
That's a bit more like it. I'm not at all sure they have the capacity though - no heavy lift boosters (Ariane V or bigger) that would be needed for a Von Braun "assemble stack in NEO" plan, and certainly nothing to rival the "all in one go" approach of the Saturn V. To be talking about lunar missions when there's not even been a manned orbital one yet seems a little... ambitious?
"This demands for more amount of training on the ground, and we would be spending one third of the budget on training and development of technology," he further said.
1/3 is a bit low, considering the lack of experience so far. But it's at least in the right ballpark. We'll see.
"US and China are two main contenders who want to send man on moon by 2020. Though they have not yet announced anything but they have the capacity and adequate funds to send man to moon by 2020," he added.
I'm not sure he's correct there either: China is looking more towards 2025, and the US Manned Space Program is liable to come to a grinding halt in the near future. From the Houston Chronicle :
The Texas congressional delegation is launching a campaign to combat potentially deep budget cuts for NASA as President-elect Barack Obama focuses on rescuing the nation's economy.

The drive comes amid expectations that billions of dollars will be shifted from various federal agencies into new programs to stimulate the economy and stabilize the financial system.

With tough trade-offs ahead, NASA's supporters are bracing for a hard look by the new administration and Democratic-controlled Congress at the space agency's $20.2 billion budget for the current year, which includes $5.8 billion for the shuttle and $3 billion to develop the Orion moonship.

The open-ended rescue is expected to leave Obama little leeway to fulfill an expensive campaign promise he made in Florida to close a five-year gap between the shuttle's retirement and the moonship's inaugural as a way to keep 6,400 high-paying jobs at the state's Kennedy Space Center.

Now, said Scott Pace, the director of George Washington University's Space Policy Institute, "money for space is going to be extremely tight."

"That leaves you a difficult choice," Pace added. "Change the schedule or change the program."
$3 billion - or even $8.8 billion - isn't much compared to the cost of the economic bailouts, or Obama's new educational, health and welfare programme. But every little bit helps - "a billion here, a billion there, and soon you're talking about real money" as was so notoriously said in the US Congress.

The real problem though is not the technology - for US space scientists are the best in the world. It's not even the money, for there's plenty if it was allocated in a half reasonable fashion. No, the problem is that the US manned space effort is not primarily aimed at putting Americans into space: it's aimed at distributing financial pork from the political pork-barrel. The problem is illustrated by the article's continuation:
The state's congressional delegation of 20 Republicans and 12 Democrats is counting on building alliances with other House members, making good on promises of bipartisan cooperation with the White House and lobbying efforts by NASA contractors to help combat the looming challenges.

"The trick will be to show what manned space flight can do for the nation, rather than what the nation can do for manned space flight," said Pace, a former NASA associate administrator.

Appealing to national concerns also can pay dividends, said Susan McManus, a political scientist at the University of South Florida who has watched federal support for NASA ebb and flow. " 'Economy,' 'competition,' 'national security' — those are buzz words that win allies," she said.
It's not real - they're Buzz Words, mere ploys to get a slice of the pie.
"As Congress looks at ways to stimulate the economy, it cannot ignore the fact that the JSC is a mainstay of the Houston community that directly and indirectly impacts tens of thousands of jobs," Cornyn said in a recent speech.

NASA's spending accounts for more than 39,000 Houston jobs in areas such as retail, health care and construction, according to studies by the University of Houston-Clear Lake.

Some Texans are looking to Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., a veteran of a 1986 shuttle flight who chairs a NASA oversight panel.

The thinking? Obama might support spending for the manned space program because it would benefit Florida's Kennedy Space Center — an economic jewel in the electorally important state. That, in turn, would spill over to benefit Houston's JSC.
...
"We're used to working together as Team Texas," said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-The Woodlands, a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
Not Team America. That's the problem. Everyone wants their share of the pie, jobs in their electorate. Whether the program succeeds or collapses under he weight of inefficient dilution of resources is immaterial. Whether Americans ever go into space again after 2010 matters least of all.

From Fox News:
WASHINGTON — U.S. President-elect Barack Obama's NASA transition team is asking U.S. space agency officials to quantify how much money could be saved by canceling the Ares 1 rocket and scaling back the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle next year.
...
The questionnaire, "NASA Presidential Transition Team Requests for Information," asks agency officials to provide the latest information on Ares 1, Orion and the planned Ares 5 heavy-lift cargo launcher, and to calculate the near-term close-out costs and longer-term savings associated with canceling those programs. The questionnaire also contemplates a scenario where Ares 1 would be canceled but development of the Ares 5 would continue.
...
Logsdon also said he did not see any significance to the omission of cancellation questions about COTS, space shuttle, space station or other programs.

Executives at Alliant Techsystems (ATK), the Edina, Minn.-based prime contractor for the Ares 1 main stage, told Space News Nov. 25 they were not alarmed by the questions the transition team is asking about Ares and the Constellation program, which encompasses not only the shuttle replacement but also hardware NASA would need to land astronauts on the Moon.

"They are doing due diligence," said Charlie Precourt, ATK's vice president of NASA space launch systems. "If you are the incoming steward of all federal agencies you are going to ask a spectrum of questions like this."
Of course you are.

But if I were you... I'd start circulating your resume, if you know what I mean?

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Chainsaw Bayonet???



Now where have I seen something like that before.... oh yes.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

For Children of All Ages



AdventureQuest Worlds (AQW or AQWorlds) is a fully Flash-animated RPG (role playing game) that your child can play that we believe is quite a bit different from most other large scale online games. Players battle against hordes of monsters and enemies so that they can grow stronger and obtain ancient weapons of unimaginable power. They follow long quest chains to unlock key story elements. Players need nothing more than their web browser and the latest version of the Flash plugin to play.

Always changing!
We are always creating and adding new content to the game and updating the main game engine to improve the experience for everyone. New quests, areas, items or events show up every week in AQWorlds!

Multi-player Functionality
We do have a bad word filter in place to prevent players from saying bad things. We also have 'canned chat' servers that only allow for players to communicate with our pre-written messages . To be on the 'chat safe' servers, the players need to play on the Moglin servers, such as Twilly or Zorbak.

AQWorlds is like our other games in the sense that we do want players to work together cooperatively to achieve story-oriented goals. However, AQWorlds is the first game that we have allowed chat functionality between players. We do not allow foul language, nudity, extreme realistic violence or drug/alcohol use in our games.

AQWorlds was created to appeal to all ages. It is easy to learn to play. If your child is under the age of 13, you (as the parent or legal guardian) must be the one to set up the account for her or him to play.
...
AdventureQuest Worlds (AQWorlds) is full of interesting stories to read, adventures to experience, and goal driven quests to complete. New events, quests, monsters, NPCs (Non-Player Characters) and items are continually being added to the game. The quests and events help to test the player's mental abilities. AQWorlds is also a great place for kids to practice and improve their reading skills, because all of the NPCs talk to you, and every quest you go on involves reading text to make decisions about how the player continues the quest. The written material in AQWorlds contains no foul language and is suitable for all ages, and is written to be generally understood by players of all ages.

AQWorlds provides an environment that may improve personal skills, including analytical thinking, multitasking and problem-solving. It also includes elements that require players to calculate percentages and use other mathematical skills to better play the game.
That's their story and they're sticking to it.

It also in my experience with my son is actually true. Recommended.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Governance in the Wilderness

At a time when a colleague of mine is still waiting to hear whether a friend of his has survived the Bombay Massacre (and the signs don't look good I'm afraid), it is timely to consider why it happened.

From the New York Post :
No one should feel safe without submitting to Islam, and those who refuse to submit must pay a high price. The Islam ist movement must aim to turn the world into a series of "wildernesses" where only those under jihadi rule enjoy security.

These are some of the ideas developed by al Qaeda's chief theoretician, Sheik Abu-Bakar Naji, in his new book "Governance in the Wilderness" (Edarat al-Wahsh).
...
Since 9/11, Islamist terror movements have been debating grand strategy. Osama bin Laden had theorized that the "infidel," led by the United States, would crumble after a series of spectacular attacks, just as the Meccan "infidel" government did when the Prophet Muhammad launched deadly raids against its trade routes. Yet the 9/11 attacks didn't lead to an "infidel" retreat. On the contrary, the "Great Satan" hit back hard.
...
The jihadis are to begin by giving areas where Muslims live a distinctly Islamic appearance, by imposing special styles of dress for women and beards for men. Then they start imposing the shariah. In the final phase, they create a parallel system of taxation and law enforcement, effectively taking the areas out of government control.

The "wilderness" will provide the cover for bases for jihad operations. Jihad would be everywhere, rather than in just one or two countries that the "infidel" could hit with superior firepower.

In a notable departure from past al Qaeda strategy, Naji recommends "countless small operations" that render daily life unbearable, rather than a few spectacular attacks such as 9/11: The "infidel," leaving his home every morning, should be unsure whether he'll return in the evening.

Naji recommends kidnappings, the holding of hostages, the use of women and children as human shields, exhibition killings to terrorize the enemy, suicide bombings and countless gestures that make normal life impossible for the "infidel" and Muslim collaborators.

Once parallel societies are established throughout the world, they would exert pressure on non-Muslims to submit. Naji believes that, subjected to constant intimidation and fear of death, most non-Muslims (especially in the West) would submit: "The West has no stomach for a long fight."
...
Naji asks jihadis to target oilfields, sea and airports, tourist facilities and especially banking and financial services. He envisages "a very long war," at the end of which the whole world is brought under the banner of Islam.
...
Naji's message is stark: Western civilization is doomed. Its last bastion, America, lacks the will for a long war. The "infidel" loves life and treats it as an endless feast. Jihadis have to ruin that feast and persuade the "infidel" to abandon this world in exchange for greater rewards in the next.
Ok, so how do we counter this kind of thing? How have we countered it historically?

You see it's nothing new. During the Cold War, such tactics were used to a greater or lesser extent by groups as disparate as the "Rot Armee Fraktion" in Germany, the "Brigatte Rosse" in Italy, the "Sonoro Luminoso" in Peru, the Nihon Sekigun in Japan, and even the various IRA's, "provisional", "real", "Arm Saoirse Náisiúnta na hÉireann" and so on.

It's not much of a stretch to include the Barbary Corsairs, and even the Vikings in one sense: although these were commercial ventures for loot rather than in support of an ideology, terror for plunder, no terror for its own sake, defence against such attacks was equally difficult.

The problem with this philosophy of warfare is that it doesn't work - it contains within it the seeds of its own destruction. As long as the attacks are relative pinpricks, a bloody nuisance (emphasis on the "bloody"), they do not threaten the survival of the state. They threaten civil liberties, requiring greater and greater restrictions on public life to keep them to a manageable level, but as long as the casualty list is an order of magnitude less than the annual road-toll, the brutal facts are that they can and will be largely ignored.

Should they escalate to an unacceptable level though, the reaction is not going to be to capitulate. First will come a greater and greater imposition on the public, more and more restrictions, until finally, when the choice is to become Medievally Islamic or just plain Medieval, the basic barbarianism that was covered by the relatively thin veneer of Western Civilisation will emerge.

All one has to do is study the Thirty Years War to see just what ruthlessness "westerners" are capable of. It is within living memory that Admiral Halsey spoke the words
Before we're through with 'em, the Japanese language will only be spoken in hell.
And what is more, and what is often forgotten in these more politically correct and civilised times, he meant them, and a lot of Americans agreed with him.

There is a fundamental (not to say Fundamentalist) misunderstanding of the Western Psyche at work here. The Nazis made the same mistake, labelling the "Decadent West" as being too soft to survive the ruthless dog-eat-dog of Fanatical National Socialism. But it wasn't long before the "Decadent West" had been reduced to incinerating schoolgirls in the firestorms of Rostock, Dresden, the great metropolis of Hamburg, and numerous smaller pyres of the innocent and the guilty, mixed together because it was impossible with the weapons of the time to sort them out.

You see, it's not because "we" are saints, incapable of great evil, that we do our damnedest to reduce civilian casualties to a minimum. It's not because we're hedonists either, interested only in the comforts of civilisation. It's because we know that we're capable of enormities beyond their imagination. We hold ourselves in check, continue to take our meds, lest the Berserker Crusader be unleashed.

We rode out the Cold War, which lasted at least 40 years, and could even be said to have lasted since the Paris Commune. Civilian populations in London, in Leningrad, and in Lubeck too endured far worse than mere pinpricks, and their resistance grew stronger with adversity, not weaker.

So what do we do? We endure. Because the alternative is to cry "Havoc!" and let loose the dogs of war. And in the meantime, covert and shadowy units arrange "accidents", and we encourage through appeals to man's baser instincts the treachery that is often such "urban guerillas" downfall. Look carefully on page 23 of the paper, and you'll see the traces of that continuing struggle in pithy one-liners.

How long for? Well, maybe if the Sheikh had read of this little contretemps he might have come to a different conclusion about the ability of Western Civilisation to endure lengthy periods of hostilities. Should it go much longer though, I'm afraid that the evils of "ethnic cleansing" may be deemed "acceptable". And the majority of Muslims who just want to be left in peace will find themselves in a parlous situation, with fanatics on all sides. What is more, as technology advances over the next century, it could be that becoming a Jihadi will result in more-or-less instant termination, be it by airborne laser, or miniature assassin-robots, no bigger than moths. Their target discrimination capabilities won't be perfect, and may not even be very good, but that may not matter too much by then.

Or if things get too extreme... It was Tacitus nearly 2000 years ago who said
ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.
Which for the Latin-challenged, is "where they make a desert, they call it peace.".