Saturday, 28 December 2013

Past History

When I was young, I was one of the few kids who would talk to a boy called Stephen Bristow. Son of "Timmy" Bristow. A walking mountain. Or, as one Judge described him in court, a "Walking Nightmare".

Oddly enough, he had a personal code of conduct that amounted to "Do unto others as they've done unto others, with interest.". The honest had nothing to fear. Others....

My mother disturbed an intruder in our house when coming home from shopping once. He fled, taking some items of considerable sentimental, though not monetary, value.

Tim Bristow got word of it.... We received them back in our postbox in a few days, with a misspelt crudely hand-written letter of apology that can only be described as "grovelling".

I saw Tim greet State Premiers (equivalent of Governors), Chief Stipendiary Magistrates (equivalent of Chief Justices) and other crooks. Only some of whom ended up in jail. He was on a first-name basis with them, as I can personally attest to.

He told us where not to go fishing - a spot off Bungan Beach he called the "See you later club". Miles to the south of where it was reputed to be, possibly a little misdirection on his part to avoid legal, er, complications. Not far from where a Japanese WWII minisub that had been missing since 1942 was found recently.

Our family, very straight-laced, humdrum, ordinary, and ridiculously law-abiding, lived in a very different world from his. Yet somehow there was contact, even friendship. Tim Bristow phoned to give his condolences on my father's death in 1993, the last time I spoke to him.

There have been ex-cops turned "debt collector" since. None of them resemble Tim Bristow though.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013


Tom Lehrer - A Christmas Carol

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Mistaken Gender: 5-Alpha Reductase Hermaphroditism and Biological Reductionism in Sexual Identity Reconsidered

Another for the reference library. Also.. a bit too close to home, the way some were treated.

Mistaken Gender: 5-Alpha Reductase Hermaphroditism and Biological Reductionism in Sexual Identity Reconsidered Gilbert Herdt, Academic Room 2012

Hermaphroditic infants are sex-assigned as kwolu-aatmwol, not as male. Those assigned as female are mistaken as normal females. Hermaphrodism is regarded as a sad and mysterious quirk.
The kwolu-aatmwol, unless distinguished as a shaman or war leader, is quietly disparaged. Yet several kwolu-aatmwol are well known in local history, and one of them, now deceased, was famed both as shaman and fight leader. The kwolu-aatmwol is therefore not rejected or frozen out of daily and normative social contacts, and may indeed rise to distinction through special achievements, as Sakulambei has done. Nor do Sambia feel disgust regarding these liminal beings. Still, Sambia is a sexually polarized society, and parents do not want infants to be hermaphroditic: the intersexed infant may be killed at birth by women, the men believe (Herdt 1981). If it passes as female, however, it is sure to survive.

Consequently, at birth, women carefully check the infant's sex to ensure that it is not kwolu-aatmwol. When discovered at birth, the child is reared in the direction of masculinity, but not unambiguously; rather, it is referred to as kwolu-aatmwol or male, because parents know that their infant will not change into a female. Sometimes the kwolu-aatmwol as a child is teased and humiliated by peers for having "no penis." If parents feel ashamed or rejecting of the child, the mental health outcome is poorer (Herdt and Davidson 1988).

Five of the fourteen kwolu-aatmwol were reared as females. Two of these are still alive.

One late adolescent continues to live as a female, though she is unmarried, physically larger than a normal female, and is now known to be a kwolu-aatmwol. The other living subject is an older adult who was reportedly reared ambiguously as a female.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Rabbit has landed

From Universe Today :

China scored a stunning, history making success with the successful touchdown of the ambitious Chang’e-3 probe with the ‘Yutu’ rover on the surface of the Moon today, Dec. 14, on the country’s first ever attempt to conduct a landing on an extraterrestrial body.
The dramatic Chang’e-3 soft landing on the lava filled plains of the Bay of Rainbows occurred at about 8:11 am EST, 9:11 p.m. Beijing local time, 1311 GMT today.
The monumental feat is the first landing on the Moon by any entity in nearly four decades. It was broadcast live on CCTV, China’s state run television network.

Why I say "Merry Christmas" not "Happy Holiday"

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Aurelian Alternatives

The attribution is probably apocryphal. Nonetheless, the words speak for themselves.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Another piece of the puzzle

Yet more evidence that MtoF and FtoM are not mirror-images, and that while saying "Trans women have female brains" captures the essence, and is useful as an initial step towards understanding, the reality is more complex than that. For that matter, cis women don't have female brains as such, yet men and women have statistical differences in neuro anatomy that correlate well with statistical differences in behaviour - such as sense of smell.

Cortical activation during mental rotation in male-to-female and female-to-male transsexuals under hormonal treatment. Carillo et al, Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Sep;35(8):1213-22

There is strong evidence of sex differences in mental rotation tasks. Transsexualism is an extreme gender identity disorder in which individuals seek cross-gender treatment to change their sex. The aim of our study was to investigate if male-to-female (MF) and female-to-male (FM) transsexuals receiving cross-sex hormonal treatment have different patterns of cortical activation during a three-dimensional (3D) mental rotation task. An fMRI study was performed using a 3-T scan in a sample of 18 MF and 19 FM under chronic cross-sex hormonal treatment. Twenty-three males and 19 females served as controls. The general pattern of cerebral activation seen while visualizing the rotated and non-rotated figures was similar for all four groups showing strong occipito-parieto-frontal brain activation. However, compared to control males, the activation of MF transsexuals during the task was lower in the superior parietal lobe. Compared to control females, MF transsexuals showed higher activation in orbital and right dorsolateral prefrontal regions and lower activation in the left prefrontal gyrus. FM transsexuals did not differ from either the MF transsexual or control groups. Regression analyses between cerebral activation and the number of months of hormonal treatment showed a significant negative correlation in parietal, occipital and temporal regions in the MF transsexuals. No significant correlations with time were seen in the FM transsexuals. In conclusion, although we did not find a specific pattern of cerebral activation in the FM transsexuals, we have identified a specific pattern of cerebral activation during a mental 3D rotation task in MF transsexuals under cross-sex hormonal treatment that differed from control males in the parietal region and from control females in the orbital prefrontal region. The hypoactivation in MF transsexuals in the parietal region could be due to the hormonal treatment or could reflect a priori cerebral differences between MF transsexual and control subjects.

The Failure of Trickle-Down Economics in the USA

I used to be a great believer in "trickle-down". Up until 1980, there was evidence that it always worked. This evidence couldn't be ignored.

However, I did not foresee that there was a tipping-point in the concentration of wealth where it made far more economic sense to buy the governm
ent than to invest in plant.

This means that regulations which restrain monopolistic and anti-competitive practices are repealed or not enforced, while ever more burdensome regulations that strangle upstart competitors at birth are enacted. The more of the latter there are, the more persuasive the argument to relax regulations against the big boys. The more the big boys get away with murder, the more persuasive the argument for regulations and yet more regulations that only affect the small end of town in practice.

Trickle-down cannot help but grow an economy in an absolute sense; but when the distribution is too concentrated, most of the growth ends up in the hands of a very few, while the median standard stays steady, growing very slowly. In pathological cases, not just all the growth, but over 100% of it ends up in the hands of those who control the legislatures, and the median standard actually falls, as in the USA today.

This leads to a runaway effect, where 1% of the populace holds more national wealth than the rest of the country put together. The US hasn't reached that state yet, but it's 40% in 2013, and likely to hit over 50% soon, with 60, 70, 80% to come. The trend is clear, the concentration accelerating.

The result ' "too big to fail, too big to jail" is already visible. Disrupting the system by putting the brakes on would cause economic chaos, hence the need for bailouts and ever increasing corporate welfare. There are already commercial organisations essentially immune from legal sanction. Examples of CEOs paying less tax in absolute terms than their secretaries, and ridiculously less in relative terms, abound.

That's the diagnosis. The cure? Er... pass.

Signs of the times: From Rolling Stone:

For at least half a decade, the storied British colonial banking power helped to wash hundreds of millions of dollars for drug mobs, including Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel, suspected in tens of thousands of murders just in the past 10 years – people so totally evil, jokes former New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, that "they make the guys on Wall Street look good." The bank also moved money for organizations linked to Al Qaeda and Hezbollah, and for Russian gangsters; helped countries like Iran, the Sudan and North Korea evade sanctions; and, in between helping murderers and terrorists and rogue states, aided countless common tax cheats in hiding their cash.
"They violated every goddamn law in the book," says Jack Blum, an attorney and former Senate investigator who headed a major bribery investigation against Lockheed in the 1970s that led to the passage of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. "They took every imaginable form of illegal and illicit business."
That nobody from the bank went to jail or paid a dollar in individual fines is nothing new in this era of financial crisis. What is different about this settlement is that the Justice Department, for the first time, admitted why it decided to go soft on this particular kind of criminal. It was worried that anything more than a wrist slap for HSBC might undermine the world economy.
"Had the U.S. authorities decided to press criminal charges," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer at a press conference to announce the settlement, "HSBC would almost certainly have lost its banking license in the U.S., the future of the institution would have been under threat and the entire banking system would have been destabilized."
Remember what I said : The result ' "too big to fail, too big to jail" is already visible. Disrupting the system by putting the brakes on would cause economic chaos, hence the need for bailouts and ever increasing corporate welfare. There are already commercial organisations essentially immune from legal sanction.
When it comes to wealth distribution... from HuffPo
The United States has such an unequal distribution of wealth so that it's in the league of corrupt underdeveloped countries, no longer in the league of the developed nations, according to the latest edition of the world's most thorough study of wealth-distribution.
The most authoritative source comparing wealth-concentration in the various countries is the successor to the reports that used to be done for the United Nations, now performed as the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook. The latest (2013) edition of it finds (p. 146) that in the U.S., 75.4% of all wealth is owned by the richest 10% of the people.
The comparable figures for the other developed countries are: Australia 50.3%, Canada 57.4%, Denmark 72.2%, Finland 44.9%, France 51.8%, Germany 61.7%, Ireland 58.4%, Israel 68.9%, Italy 49.8%, Japan 49.1%, Netherlands 54.6%, New Zealand 57.6%, Norway 65.9%, Singapore 61.1%, Spain 54.0%, Sweden 71.1%, Switzerland 71.5%, and U.K. 53.3%.
Those are the top 20 developed nations, and the U.S. has the most extreme wealth-concentration of them all. However, there are some other countries that have wealth-concentrations that are about as extreme as the U.S. For examples: Chile 72.5%, India 73.8%, Indonesia 75.0%, and South Africa 74.8%. The U.S. is in their league; not in the league of developed economies. In the U.S., the bottom 90% of the population own only 24.6% of all the privately held wealth, whereas in most of the developed world, the bottom 90% own around 40%; so, the degree of wealth-concentration in the U.S. is extraordinary (except for underdeveloped countries).
The broadest mathematical measure of wealth-inequality is called "Gini," and the higher it is, the more extreme the nation's wealth-inequality is. The Gini for the U.S. is 85.1. Other extremely unequal countries are (pages 98-101 of this report) Chile 81.4, India 81.3, Indonesia 82.8, and South Africa 83.6. However, some nations are even more-extreme than the U.S.: Kazakhstan 86.7, Russia 93.1, and Ukraine 90.0. But Honduras and Guatemala are such rabid kleptocracies that their governments don't even provide sufficiently reliable data for an estimate to be able to be made; and, so, some countries might be even higher than nations like Russia.

 At current rates, the Gini for the USA will be in the low 90's by 2020: the trend is accelerating, not tailing off.

Monday, 9 December 2013

A Big Win in the USA

Stating the bleedin' obvious Department.

NCD 140.3, Transsexual Surgery
Docket No. A-13-47
NCD Ruling No. 2
December 2, 2013
The aggrieved party also argues that the NCD when issued was invalid and unsupported by the NCD record. The aggrieved party argues that the 1981 NCHCT report acknowledged the effectiveness of transsexual surgery in stating that “eight of the nine studies” that “represent[ed] the major clinical reports thus far published” between 1969 and 1980 on the outcome of the surgery “reported that most transsexuals show improved adjustment on a variety of criteria after sex reassignment surgery.”7 NCD Record at 1718. The aggrieved party also argues that the ninth, unfavorable, study on which the NCHCT relied was “severely flawed and ideologically biased,” and criticizes two of the sources cited in the 1981 NCHT report as ideologically biased against transgender individuals, based on their published writings. AP Statement at 5. We need not and do not address these arguments since we need not decide here whether the NCD record was complete and adequate to support the NCD at the time the NCD record was developed. In any event, our determination that the NCD record fails to account for developments in the care and treatment of persons with GID during the more than 30 years that have passed since the NCHCT issued its report containing the findings that HCFA adopted in issuing the NCD is, without more, a sufficient basis for our determination that the NCD record is not complete and adequate to support the validity of NCD 140.3.

7 The NCHCT discounted these findings on the ground that the eight favorable studies did not meet “the ideal criteria of a valid scientific evaluation of a clinical procedure.” NCD Record at 18.
 In summary:
Based on the current record in this proceeding initiated by an acceptable NCD complaint from an aggrieved party, the Departmental Appeals Board (Board) has determined that the NCD (National Coverage Determination) record in this case “is not complete and adequate to support the validity of the NCD” denying Medicare coverage for transsexual surgery “for sex reassignment of transsexuals.” 42 C.F.R. § 426.525(c)(3); NCD 140.3. The submissions of the aggrieved party and the amici curiae, to which the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) elected not to respond to defend the NCD, demonstrate that the premises for the NCD, which was based on a 1981 review of medical and scientific sources published between 1966 and 1980, are not reasonable in light of subsequent developments. This proceeding will thus move on to discovery and taking of evidence as provided in 42 C.F.R. §§ 426.532 and 426.540. This ruling does not address the ultimate question of whether the NCD as written is valid under the reasonableness standard, but only whether the existing NCD record on which the NCD was based is complete and adequate to support its validity.

In other words... the recorded evidential basis for judging that treatment for Trans patients shouldn't be covered by Medicare is inadequate.  There is considerable evidence that the conclusion was unjustified when it was made back in 1981, and the veritable mountain of evidence accumulated over the intervening third of a century has universally indicated that it was very wrong indeed. Certainly enough to overcome the burden of proof that the Aggrieved Party bears, and so great an amount that the CMS elected not to contest it.

The next step is to show that the ruling is not just unevidenced and unjustified, but that it is unreasonable and unjustifiable. The CMS may elect not to contest that proposition too, given the data.

This situation should have been reviewed decades ago, when there was possibly a shadow of doubt, rather than today when there's none. If this is treated in the same way as every other medical situation is treated, the result is a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately, that's a big if.

Source (PDF)

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Dragon in Space : 10 years on

The Space Review: As China goes to the Moon, prize teams stay in the race

While several private American companies are planning robotic missions to the moon, China launched a man-sized robotic scout to the moon on Monday. The country’s recent manned missions and efforts to build a new space base suggest a future manned mission to the moon, though why is an open question. Speculation has run from the desire to build a military missile base -- a Death Star of sorts -- to national pride to simple economics.
The answer may be far simpler: The moon is “easy” to get to.
“If you’re still trying to test out your space legs, it’s a great place to do it,” said one NASA engineer familiar with the agency’s plans.
 One small step for Man at a time.... this isn't a one-time stunt, it's a slow and methodical long-term exploration and colonisation effort.
Dennis Wingo, a space entrepreneur and author of the book “MoonRush,” thinks the Chinese mission is about supporting the world’s exploding population.
“China is spending billions on resource acquisition in Africa, South America and other places around the world,” he told “If you look at the design of their system for this mission, it is very much a mineral prospector as much as a science mission.”
Yet America will not return to the moon, NASA administrator Charlie Bolden makes clear.
“NASA is not going to the moon with a human as a primary project probably in my lifetime,” Bolden said at an April panel in Washington.
China’s Chang’e 3 lander -- which should touch down on the moon in mid-December -- will be the first controlled landing since the Soviet Union’s Luna-24 mission in 1976.

 From Universe Today:

China’s maiden moon landing probe successfully entered lunar orbit on Friday, Dec. 6, following Sunday’s (Dec. 1) spectacular blastoff – setting the stage for the historic touchdown attempt in mid December.
Engineer’s at the Beijing Aerospace Control Center (BACC) commanded the Chang’e 3 lunar probe to fire its braking thrusters for 361 seconds, according to China’s Xinhua news agency.
The do or die orbital insertion maneuver proceeded precisely as planned at the conclusion of a four and a half day voyage to Earth’s nearest neighbor.
Chang’e 3 is due to make a powered descent to the Moon’s surface on Dec. 14, firing the landing thrusters at an altitude of 15 km (9 mi) for a soft landing in a preselected area called the Bay of Rainbows or Sinus Iridum region.
Chang’e 3 marks the beginning of the second phase of China’s lunar robotic exploration program. The lander follows a pair of highly successful lunar orbiters named Chang’e 1 and 2 which launched in 2007 and 2010. The next step will be an unmanned lunar sample return mission, perhaps by 2020.
Previous posts on this blog have followed China's careful, methodical, and above all, successful space colonisation effort for many years. Starting in July 2003.

The Chinese Manned Space programme has proceeded slowly, carefully, one step at a time. And it has proceeded very successfully so far as the result.

As was written in September 2003:
Meanwhile, space officials said China hoped to launch a space probe capable of orbiting the moon by 2005 or 2006, which would be the nation's first lunar mission and would eventually lead to an eventual landing on the moon by an unmanned Chinese lunar space craft.
And in October 2003 :
Yes, they've been methodical. This is not some flash-in-the-pan Space Spectacular for no more worthy a goal than National prestige. It's not a Space Race as such - because a Race implies that they're competing against some other entity. No, after consulting my Crystal Ball, taking the auguries, and examining the entrails of a goat, I think they're in it for the long term. I'm not talking about Scientific missions to Mars, or even Exploratory missions to the Moon. I'm talking about setting up a permanent presence. Not next year. Not next decade, nor the one after that. But certainly within the next 50 years. I think that they have a plan. A flexible one, that will adapt to changing circumstances and unforeseeable problems, but a plan nonetheless.
There was no funding for lunar projects in the ten-year space plan approved in 2001. By July 2001 a Chinese aerospace magazine indicated that Chinese scientists had drafted a much more modest four-phase long term plan.

Phase 1, by 2005: Lunar flyby or orbiting satellite missions, perhaps using the DFH-3 bus.
Phase 2, by 2010: unmanned soft-landing missions.
Phase 3, by 2020: Robotic exploration using surface rovers.
Phase 4, by 2030: Lunar sample return missions.
Only after 2030 would manned flights and construction of a lunar base begin.

The Shenzhou manned spacecraft provides the Chinese with the required hardware to pursue a lunar program whenever they make the decision to go.
It would surprise me if the schedule didn't slip. But no matter, there's no hurry.
 Looks like phase 2 and 3 have been collapsed into one, a bit later than 2010, but earlier than 2020.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Warm Fuzzies Department

The logo of the NRO's Launch 39. A recon sat.

This does not give me warm fuzzies about the corporate culture there now. In times not so long ago, something more like this was used by similar organisations. I know, I have the coffee mugs.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Little Did I Know...

Courtesy of the Wayback Machine, at 

 Birthplace and All That

 To quote Hoffnung, "I was born, through no fault of my own, at a very early age.". Or in my case, in 1958 in Earley, a small suburb of Reading, Berkshire, England. Or at least it was a suburb. Now its been swallowed up in Reading proper. Last time I was there (1986), the fields I used to watch the Foxhunters go through are now a high-density housing development ("Lower Earley", and you can't get much lower, I'm telling you...), and the stream I used to fish in is a concrete storm water drain.. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi, and the song "Tar and Cement" comes to mind.

When I was 10 and at boarding school (a place called Bigshotte, which appears to have vanished with the snows of yesteryear), I got an unscheduled visit from my parents. Who informed me that in 2 weeks time we were emigrating to Australia. You can take the boy out of England, but you can't take England out of the boy, and it wasn't until 1988 that I finally decided to take out Australian Citizenship. I still retain dual nationality, though the England I came from no longer exists, but has been transformed into a diverse multi-ethnic European state. Overall, a great improvement, but not a place I can identify with very much.

Good Things, Bad Things

After attending Sydney Grammar School for 6 years, I entered Sydney University in 1976. My father was unemployed, my mother hospitalised. Not a good time. Things picked up, but then I had a number of life-threatening medical problems. Picked up a little brain damage from Encephalo-Meningitis (yes, I know, it shows...). Spent half my lectures zonked out from Painkillers. Operations etc. Nuff Said. For much of the time, I resided in International House (and this is a link well worth following up, the whole concept is a great idea).

Then I met Carmel for the second time, in 1980. Love at first sight. (The first time was when I was at Sydney Grammar, which is next to the Australian Museum. The one girl that I ever noticed as a schoolboy was a schoolgirl who I saw exactly once in the geological section. We both only realised we'd met there only a few years ago, as she remembered someone who looked exactly like me at the same time and place.) Anyway, within 2 months of first meeting, we were engaged. Hey, she had her own copy of Panzerblitz! And a Model Railway! I figure I've blown about 10,000 years of Good Karma by meeting her, but it's been worth it and more.  

A bit about my Brilliant Career*
* Career - To go downhill fast, without control

I graduated from Sydney University in 1981, with a BSc in Computer Science and Pure Mathematics. Since then, I've been CompSci-ing in various industries and businesses, but for the most part, doing what is euphemistically known as "defence work.". Some of the software I wrote early in my professional life performed according to specification in the Gulf War, on HMAS Brisbane.

 I can remember joking that it would work with any Air Defence Doctrine, except possibly Saudi Arabia's, but what were the odds of that happening?

 I've worked on software for a number of vessels in various Allied Navies. From analysis work on the 76mm gun system on the German Navy's new F-124, being Chief Designer for an Artificial Intelligence based Anti-Missile system for the Turkish Navy, to programming and design work on "very expensive machines that go PING" for submarines of the Israeli Defence Force, Hellenic Navy, Armada de Chile, Royal Swedish Navy, Italian Navy, and various others.

I've spent a ridiculous amount of my life peering into PPIs and Waterfall, DEMON and FRAZ displays, but also sunned myself on the Fantail of a Destroyer in the middle of the Pacific, relaxed watching a magnificent sunset in the Gulf of Thailand, and shared my personal space with half a tonne of high explosive sleeping on top of a Mk 48 Mod 3 torpedo.

In the course of my work, I've personally chiselled a hole through the Berlin Wall, inhaled Pad Thai (Thai Noodles) on the banks of the Chao Praya river in Bangkok, domiciled on the fabulously expensive Bahnhofstrasse in Zurich, gotten nervous when the Air Raid sirens wailed in Seoul, Korea, and consumed with gusto Alaskan King Crab in Akron, Ohio. It's been fun so far. (note from 2013: Now, talk about tempting Fate....this is what I wrote at the end.) Can't wait to see what happens next. 

Last updated 09 February 1999

What happened next of course is described at ....

A miracle.