Thursday, December 20, 2012

On "female" being an optional extra

Yesterday, a co-worker asked me to take a look at his website selling racing bikes, and offer him constructive criticism. However, what jumped out at me most was nothing to do with website design, but was rather to do with product labelling. He sells "bikes", and "female bikes".

Here's the thing. Despite the horrid pinkness of all his women's products, I'm glad that he sells bikes designed for women. There are average anatomical differences that mean that a bike designed for women will be a more comfortable ride for most (but not all) women than a bike designed for men. My issue is that the bikes designed for men are not "men's bikes" (or "male bikes", to use terminology consistent with his website), but "bikes". Being male is seen as the default, being female is to be different, to have special needs that require extra work to cater to.

This is a common attitude in our society, closely tied to the fact that being male, is to be seen as superior. If you disagree with that statement, consider this. While it would be acceptable for a woman to choose a man's bike, if it suited her needs better, a man choosing a woman's bike would, at best, raise eyebrows. A woman choosing a male product is perhaps upgrading, perhaps merely expressing a different presence. A man choosing a product designed for women is downgrading, making his masculinity questionable. This double standard is not ok.

To go to another example of how this attitude is prevalent in our society, many events offer only "unisex" t-shirts. "Unisex" clothing is designed to fit a male body, but women are considered fussy if they want a women's cut. Here's the thing though, the fit of a unisex t-shirt fits the average woman no better than a women's t-shirt would fit the average man. "Unisex" does not actually mean "unisex", it means "we could only be bothered designing one style, so we designed for men, because no ["real"] guy would be caught dead wearing women's clothing, but you can wear men's clothing, so deal with it". This was something that had long annoyed me, but really crystallized when I read a fantastic post written by Greta Christina, which managed to collect all the jumbled half-thoughts I already had on the issue, and put them together far more eloquently and forcefully than I could have.

Yes, these issues are rather trivial, but they are symptomatic of a society that is not as gender neutral as we would like to believe. What this post boils down to is this. Be aware. If you see a product, and then an equivalent product designed for women, chances are, the "standard" product was actually designed for men. If a product is a-gendered, consider whether it really is a-gendered (many are), or if it's a product designed for men, and women are simply expected to make the best of the situation (frequently the case). Do not mock or laugh off women who are dis-satisfied with having to make the best of products designed for men. Finally, if you design or sell such products, consider if you can improve the way you design and market your products, so that you do not re-enforce the idea that the male gender is the default, and so you better meet the needs of your whole market, and not just the stereotypically male share.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The historical meaning of marriage

I hate it, when listening to arguments about why same sex marriage should not be allowed, when the "traditional meaning of marriage", or the "biblical meaning of marriage" argument gets brought up. The "traditional" meaning has changed with time (and place), and our conception of marriage today is quite different to the biblical concept (polygamy anyone?).

On that note, here is a post by Victoria Adams, who, as an anthropologist and Christian, breaks down some of the history of marriage, both in the Western/Christian tradition, and in other world cultures, to show how the "traditional/biblical meaning of marriage" argument simply doesn't hold water. Read it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Sorry for not posting much recently. I've hit that part of semester where I'm very much wondering at the wisdom of deciding that I want to spend a whole lot more of my life at University. I've handed in the last of my assignments, and am now in full-on exam preparation mode, and just for fun am starting work tomorrow, just when I'm busiest. Being me, all this means I'm probably worrying slightly more than is strictly necessary, and am not letting myself get side-tracked writing involved blog posts (although other distractions seem to be plentiful). I'll be finished with exams next Friday. Expect to hear a lot more from me after that.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Abortion and shame

I've been meaning to write something about abortion pretty much since I started this blog, but I've been apprehensive about publicly writing things that I know are likely to be even more controversial than what I usually write about. However, I recently watched this TEDx talk by Leslie Cannold, and am feeling motivated to speak out.

More details on why I am firmly pro-choice will come in a later post, but for now, this is what I need to say:

I have never had an abortion, but I could have. I have, partly through care, and partly through luck, never been in the position where I had to decide what to do with an unplanned pregnancy.

If you have had an abortion, I do not judge you. I trust that you made the best choice given your circumstances, and that's all that matters. Your reasons were good enough, because it is your life and your body. There should be no shame in your decision.

If you judge women who have had abortions badly, judge me too. I haven't had an abortion, but I could have had one, had circumstances been different, and might still, depending on future circumstance. If this information changes your opinion of me, I want you to consider this: one third of Australian women will have an abortion in their lifetimes. Many of those who have abortions are pro-life, yet, when faced with the decision themselves, find ways of justifying their need, while continuing to deny that other women feel just as justified in their abortions. If one third of women have abortions, how many more would have one, except they are lucky enough to never find themselves having an unwanted pregnancy, or a wanted pregnancy with something terribly wrong?

If you judge women who have had abortions badly, think of who you are judging, because chances are that that group of "baby killing" women includes women you love, who suffer silently, fearing how you and others would react if they knew.

I refuse to be ashamed of the fact that one day, I may need an abortion. I refuse to stand by as shame is heaped upon my fellow women for utilizing a medical procedure which, along with contraception (which is not perfect), is absolutely essential for allowing women the opportunity to participate in society on a more equal footing with men.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Gillard's fantastic feminist rant

Now, I'm not a huge fan of Gillard, but I find her highly preferable to Abbott. So, when Hunter pointed me to the below video, I must admit that I watched it with glee. It is a superb attack on Abbott and his double standards on misogyny and sexism (in relation to the Peter Slipper text message affair).

Particularly brilliant was Gillard's use of quotes from Abbott from the not-too-distant past, showing exactly how (un)qualified he is to level accusations of sexism:

If it's true ... that men have more power generally speaking than women, is that a bad thing?

Yeah, I completely agree [that daughters should have as much opportunity as sons], but what if men are by physiology or temperament more adapted to exercise authority or issue command?

But now, there's an assumption that [the under-representation of women in society] is a bad thing. 

Top Gillard quote:
The Leader of the Opposition says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office. Well, I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation.

My opinion of Gillard has just gone up several points, even though I think it is right that Slipper has now resigned his position.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Find your understanding

Watch the below for a moving story of a father's journey to acceptance of his daughter's marriage to another woman, and the triumph of  love over bad ideas.

Thoughts? (Yes, I know it was produced by a travel company, it's still beautiful)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Favourite places: Victoria State Library

The State Library of Victoria is located in the heart of the city, and as I've previously written, it's a popular place for protests. On days without protests, the front lawn tends to be dotted with roughly equal numbers of pigeons, seagulls, and people, lounging around reading or chatting in groups.

Not particularly dotted with students, seagulls or pigeons...

Despite the wonderful opportunities for fun outside the library however, it is the inside that is spectacular. The first time I went inside, especially inside the La Trobe Reading Room (most of the below pictures), I was awed by it, and to be honest, a little aroused. The blend of beautiful architecture and lots an lots of books gives me a feeling comparable to religious awe. If we lived closer to the city, I would definitely go there, at least occasionally, to study.

To emphasize how wonderfully nerdy the State Library is, there is a dedicated chess room, housing resources on the game of chess, and a number of chess boards set up so you can sit down to a game.

The State Library of Victoria is definitely among the top tourist destinations in Melbourne, at least for bibliophiles like me.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Australians and language

By the time I left Japan, my Japanese was pretty good. I could make myself understood for most topics of general conversation. I was constantly praised for how good my Japanese was. In fact, I didn't even need to be that good - frequently, just uttering a basic phrase, something really simple like konnichiwa (hello), or arigatoo (thank-you), would be enough to trigger an outpouring of effusive praise. Actually, my Japanese was pretty rubbish. I studied it for 3 years in primary school, 5 years in high school, spent a year living in Japan, and could just barely manage most topics of general conversation, yet every day I got praised for my ability.

When Hunter and I went to the Czech Republic in 2007, we could converse pretty normally with my cousins, one of whom is about the same age as us, the other two a little older. We had to pick our words a little carefully, and sometimes explain ourselves, but my cousins could all converse about a far greater range of topics than I could converse about in Japanese. One of my cousins was near the bottom of her class in English, yet we could still converse just fine.

What do my experiences in these countries show? Firstly, the Japanese (on the whole), are incredibly pleased to see that someone has made an effort, any effort, to learn their language. I imagine the Czechs would be pretty happy if someone bothered to learn their language too - it's even less likely than someone learning Japanese. I can't really remember, because it wasn't something I personally experienced.

Secondly, in both these countries, everyone learns another language, usually English. The Czechs manage to teach English to an incredibly high standard, such that by then end of high school, a not-academically inclined student can still speak English better than I could speak Japanese after a year in the country. The Japanese level of English is not so high, but is probably still of a higher level than LOTE (Languages Other Than English) is taught here, and here only the students who are interested learn a foreign language.

Most Australians don't bother to learn another language, and a distressing number of closed-minded parents object to their children being taught another language ("Children these days can't do basic maths and English, why waste time on a useless foreign language?"). Because of this, we are limited in our experiences, and this makes us, as a group, prejudiced. Whereas in Japan, people were thrilled to see that I had tried hard, and learned some Japanese, here in Australia, we tend to set the minimum standard as perfect English with just a hint of an accent. Near-perfect English, but with a moderate accent? It's just too hard to understand, why should we have to make the effort to understand them when they've come to our country? Having never struggled with learning a language themselves, many Australians completely lack understanding and empathy towards people who can't quite make themselves understood. People exhibit resentment for having to listen to someone with accented English, and as privileged monoglots, see imperfections in a person's English as a sign of laziness, something they could fix if only they put in a little more effort, instead of recognizing how much work that person has put in, just to be where he or she is.

Learning a language is hard, learning a language as an adult is harder, and losing an accent is harder still. If you can only speak English, then chances are that you have no idea just how hard it is. Same goes for growing up bilingual. Being able to effectively communicate in a language that's not your native tongue takes a huge investment of time, effort, and not a small amount of natural ability.

If someone has made the effort to learn English, that person has done almost all of the work. The least we can do is put in the effort to try and understand. As with all things, it gets easier with practice. Spend a bit of time listening to a variety of Englishes and actually making an effort to understand, and you'll find that it really isn't that hard. And if you are having trouble understanding? Don't be afraid to ask for clarification, the vast majority of people won't mind, after all, they want to be understood.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Some sights of Melbourne

Yesterday, I handed in my last assignment for several weeks, and celebrated by taking some time to wander around the city and play with my camera again for the first time in many weeks. I wasn't feeling too inspired, too brain drained I think, but here are a few of my better photos, though they're all photos of someone else's art.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Supporting reproductive choice in the developing world

About 12 months ago, I was browsing through the Oxfam Unwrapped catalogue, the one that lets you give a gifts to people in need on behalf of people who don't need or even really want anything, thus preventing the need to buy useless gimmicky presents. I noticed that there were several pregnancy and motherhood related gifts, but that pregnancy and motherhood themselves were assumed. How many of these women even want a baby, or want it at this stage in their lives? There wasn't a gift of choice - letting a woman choose when or if she wanted to become a mother, nor to set a limit on her number of pregnancies. I checked World Vision's Smiles catalogue, and the UNICEF catalogue, and found the same thing. The charities were all keen to help a new mother, but nobody stopped to ask her if she wanted to become a mother in the first place.

I looked further, and found that charities that openly support this strangely controversial form of aid are few and far between. It seems that except for an organization explicitly dedicated to reproductive rights, supporting the right of women to control their reproduction is too risky - it might alienate Catholic, Evangelical, and other conservative donors.

Education and opportunity are the route out of poverty, but I think that supporting reproductive choice in the developing world can make a much bigger difference than directly supporting education, especially in countries where a reasonable level of education is already available. If couples in the developing world can limit the size of their families, education and opportunity should follow, even without our help.

With a baby arriving every 12-24 months, many parents are unable to earn enough to support their children. The older kids may have to work to support their younger siblings, taking time away from education, or preventing it altogether. Schooling is unaffordable with that many mouths to feed, or only affordable for the boys. The mother's near-constant pregnancy and time spent caring for an infant and young children will impact her ability to provide for her family, assuming that she survives at all. Worldwide, 800 women a day die from pregnancy-related complications.1 Of women in the developing world who reach survive to the age of 15, 1 in 150 will die of maternal causes,1 and twenty times that number will suffer serious, sometimes life-long complications.2 Of course, those numbers were for the developing world as a whole, where 50% of women still have access to contraceptives. In sub-Saharan Africa, 1 in 31 women will die from pregnancy and childbirth complications, and in Afghanistan, the figure is a shocking 1 out of 7.3 Motherless children are 10 times more likely to die within two years of their mother's death than children whose mothers are still alive.4 Overall, the picture is grim.

It doesn't have to be this way. Consider a hypothetical family in the developing world. They are poor, but have access to family planning services. They don't start having children as soon as they marry, but hold off for a few years, and are able to scrape together some meagre savings. They have two or three children, comfortably and safely spaced, and then stop. Mum and Dad's work between them provide enough income to feed, clothe and educate their children. The children don't need to work, or don't need to work as much, so they can focus on education and thus have a chance of breaking out of the poverty cycle. Not only are fewer children being born into poverty, but those who are born are much less likely to live in poverty.

Unfortunately, as I alluded to earlier, charities operating in this field are few and far between. I personally give to Marie Stopes International Australia (MSIA), who provide sexual and reproductive healthcare services around the world. This includes providing contraception, sexual health education (including on STD prevention), mother and baby care, and yes, safe abortions in countries where abortions are legal. MSIA was the only reproduction targeted charity I could find based (and therefore tax deductible) in Australia. However, in this case, a choice of one isn't a problem for me, because they appear well run, and I support their goals. For non-Australians, Marie Stopes International has divisions in a number of different countries, or you could consider DKT International or the International Planned Parenthood Federation. If you know of other organizations, please share in the comments. Also feel free to comment on how you see the relative importance of this compared to other aid needs in the developing world.


Friday, September 14, 2012

The gravity-defying slinky

Here's a weird bit of informative entertainment for your Friday. If you drop a slinky, the bottom of the slinky appears to defy gravity as it hangs in the air while waiting for the rest of the slinky to meet it before it decides to join the fall.

Take a look at the below video and re-calibrate your intuitions about gravity.

The video doesn't properly explain what is happening, so I've done a little research (emphasis on the little) to determine what is going on. The centre of mass of the slinky behaves exactly as a falling object should. The bottom of the slinky appears to defy gravity for a while because the forces of the spring pulling the bottom up neatly balance the force of gravity pulling the spring down - that's why the slinky initially stretched to the length it did instead of reached all the way to the ground. If you stretched the slinky from the bottom as well as holding it at the top, and then released both ends simultaneously, the bottom would actually travel up while the centre of mass travelled down - we've all seen that sort of behaviour in a slinky/spring, but that just doesn't seem as weird as the bottom of the slinky simply hanging in the air.

Via What Would JT Do

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Emergency homeopathic treatment

I've just submitted an assignment that included evaluating a website on homeopathy. Unfortunately, despite my initial enthusiasm, the word limit of 500 words to cover three sources (only one of which was about homeopathy) meant that I didn't have anywhere near enough words to properly take it apart.

To make myself feel better, I watched this:

Saturday, September 8, 2012

How consitent are your ethics?

One of my lecturers directed us to this site on ethical philosophy experiments. The set-up for most of the experiments is to as some basic questions about what you believe, then ask some questions where you apply (or don't) those beliefs, then an analysis of how your principles and applications of principles match up. Hint - doing what feels right does not lead to consistent answers - our evolved brains aren't too good at this sort of thing.

You can pick random experiments from the home page, or start where we were directed to, with the Drowning Child experiment, which will then lead you on to a number of other experiments if you're so inclined.

Let me know what you think.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Recommended reads: The cost of luxury

It's hard to avoid regularly hearing complaints about the cost of living going up, and isn't life terrible. Not only is the argument tedious, it's also wrong: Australians’ incomes have significantly outstripped prices since 1984, with disposable incomes rising on average 20% ahead of inflation over that period.

With this in mind, I'd like to direct you to a beautifully rambling diatribe on The Cost of Living, more accurately known as The Cost of Luxury over at my brother's blog, The Perpetual Rambler.

Here are a few quotes:
Now we, as citizens of the 21st century like to criticise our efficiency, apparently our grandfathers could <insert grandfather anecdote here>, but you know what? Our grandfathers didn't have smart phones. Not that I am suggesting that smart phones are the peak of human technical achievements. We also have a multitude of other devices that allow us to kill zombies, or launch birds into pigs.

What is called the cost of living is in fact the cost of luxury. The cost of the ability to eat like pigs, drink like donkeys and surf the internet like some sort of distant mammalian cousin that doesn't exist but if it did it would make the perfect simile. We don't need to live this way: we could live much more simply, but we choose to live in a way that exploits other people and the environment, and we choose to do so at the detriment of everyone, including ourselves.

Go and read the whole post, and while you're there, take a look at some of his other posts, they're well worth the read.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Moo-free chocolate review

In the past few weeks, I've been experimenting with reducing the amount of dairy I consume. I'm not against the consumption of animal products such as milk and eggs as such, but I recognise that my ability to assess the conditions under which the animals are kept is limited, and there are good environmental reasons to cut back too. Also, soy milk doesn't taste anywhere near as terrible as I remember it. It's actually quite pleasant!

Recently, Hunter and I were in the Dandenong Ranges, a bit of a hippy area, and I saw some ridiculously overpriced "moo free" milk chocolate. So it's not actually milk chocolate, but it's supposed to taste like it is, unlike most dairy free chocolate, which is dark. When the shop assistant assured me that it was actually pretty good, I made eyes at Hunter, who bought it for me, since I'd forgotten my money.

Despite my excitement and anticipation, the first bite was a let down. A second bite confirmed my first impressions. I couldn't honestly recommend it. A quick Google search shows entirely positive reviews, but I suspect that people who can't or won't eat dairy are excited to find a chocolate approximation they can eat, and are being over-generous. Although the texture isn't bad, the rice-milk flavour overpowers the coco, and it's a bit too sweet. It does not satisfy my chocolate needs. Sad Lucy.

So, for the very small number of my readers (if there are any at all), who are chocolate lovers and want a non-dairy alternative, sorry, this probably isn't it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Go Back to Where You Came From - starting tonight

Update: If you missed it, you can now watch it online.

Starting tonight at 8:30pm, SBS will be showing season two of Go Back to Where You Came From.

To any of you who aren't Australian, sorry, this probably isn't particularly relevant to you, and will not be particularly easy to obtain. For everyone else, please watch!

The first series took 6 ordinary Australians, with varying perspectives on immigration, on a reverse "illegal immigration" journey. This time, they are doing the same thing with 6 moderately famous Australians.
Over three episodes, the six Australians will face mortal danger on the streets of the world’s deadliest cities - from the sweltering, war torn capital of Somalia, Mogadishu, to the riotous streets of Kabul, freezing amidst the mountains of Afghanistan. They will travel directly into the eye of a storm - inside the walls of Christmas Island Detention Centre. It’s intense, shocking, and one of the most challenging experiences of their lives.
No matter where you stand on the issue of boat arrivals, it's important not to forget that refugees are people very much like us. Watch, think, and be prepared to reconsider what you believe.

Edit: Trailer after jump to stop it auto-playing

Monday, August 27, 2012

A trip to the Old Melbourne Gaol

A few weeks ago, my husband and I did the touristy thing in Melbourne, and ended up at the Old Melbourne Gaol and City Watch House.

I've never been in a modern watch house or gaol. I have no idea how (in)humane they are, but the now closed watch house and gaol both looked barbaric. The scary thing is that the watch house wasn't closed until the early 90s, after I was born. The cells in the watch house were large and meant to hold about a dozen people. Some had benches, some (for the drunks) had just bare concrete floors. Except for those at risk of self-harm, who were put in a padded cell, there was no separation of inmates based on class of offence; being locked up was dangerous. Things like this make me realise that we're nowhere near as removed from the barbaric past as I would like to think.

The watch house was a bit of a shock, but the gaol was depressing. Really depressing. Throughout the cells there were displays and stories of the people who had been incarcerated, and the more I looked the more depressed I became. Sure, there had been violent criminals and murderers, but the primary crime seemed to have been poverty. There were a lot of women imprisoned for failing to provide for their children, while clearly having been unable to provide for themselves either. No men were imprisoned for that crime. One story that really got to me was of two sisters, in their early teens, thrown into gaol over Christmas. Their crime? Vagrancy. Their mother was dead, their father had pissed off to the gold-fields without them, and so they were left with nowhere to live, and no source of income. This was a criminal offence, and granted them a stay in a room like this. This was in the gaol, not in the watch house. They weren't put away for the night for their own protection, they had a trial and sentencing, and were found guilty of the crime of vagrancy. They should have been given help, not a criminal record.

The only way to not be utterly depressed by the experience was to reflect on the fact that our legal system has improved. Problems? Definitely. But we have a better support structure in place to catch people in poverty, and homosexuality is no longer a crime.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Unclement cycling weather

Cycling isn't always the wonderful experience I've made it out to be.

Rain isn't all that terrible. Even though it's winter, the rain isn't dreadfully cold, and once I let go of the "I'm getting wet" issue, it really isn't that unpleasant, especially if I got to where I was going dry, and I'm on the way home when the rain starts.

Today though, I had an "exciting" new experience. One that in a year in Japan of cycling everywhere, I didn't get the pleasure of: hail. My first thought was, "Oh no! hail!", then as I kept riding, I decided it wasn't too bad. I had a helmet on, and my jeans and jacket protected most of my body. All I was getting was a little sting on my hands. A few minutes later though, as the squall intensified, I changed my mind. Hail, especially while travelling at moderate speed, really hurts!

I ended up pulling into an industrial-looking shed and seeking asylum, thankfully granted.

I'm warm and dry now, and I still love my bike.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Skeptical Harry Potter

Recently, a friend told me that I had to read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I've never been a fan-fiction reader, but I've spent rather a lot of the past few days reading this. It's set in an alternative universe where Harry's Aunt Petunia convinces Lily to use magic to make her pretty, and as a result, marries a professor instead of Vernon Dursley. As a result, everything is different. Harry has been raised by a hard-core sceptic, rationalist and scientist, and therefore struggles a little more than the original Harry with the discovery of the world of magic:
Professor McGonagall seemed highly amused. “Would you like a further demonstration, Mr. Potter?”
“You don’t have to,” Harry said. “We’ve performed a definitive experiment. But...” Harry hesitated. He couldn’t help himself. Actually, under the circumstances, he shouldn’t be helping himself. It was right and proper to be curious. “What else can you do?”
McGonagall turned into a cat.
Harry scrambled back unthinkingly, backpedaling so fast that he tripped over a stray stack of books and landed hard on his bottom with a thwack. His hands came down to catch himself without quite reaching properly, and there was a warning twinge in his shoulder as the weight came down unbraced.
At once the small tabby cat morphed back up into a robed woman. “I’m sorry, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said, sounding sincere, though her lips were twitching toward a smile. “I should have warned you.”
Harry was breathing in short pants. His voice came out choked. “You can’t DO that!”
“It’s only a Transfiguration,” said McGonagall. “An Animagus transformation, to be exact.”
“You turned into a cat! A SMALL cat! You violated Conservation of Energy! That’s not just an arbitrary rule, it’s implied by the form of the quantum Hamiltonian! Rejecting it destroys unitarity and then you get FTL  signaling! And cats are COMPLICATED! A human mind can’t just visualize a whole cat’s anatomy and, and all the cat biochemistry, and what about the neurology? How can you go on thinking using a cat-sized brain?”
McGonagall’s lips were twitching harder now. “Magic.”
“Magic isn’t enough to do that! You’d have to be a god!”
McGonagall blinked. “That’s the first time I’ve ever been called that.”
A blur was coming over Harry’s vision. Three thousand years, more or less, that was how long humanity had been investigating the natural world. In the beginning the ancient Greeks had thought that there were different rules in different places, a law for the heavens and a different law for the Earth. For hundreds of years the march of Reason had progressed steadily away from that starting point. Humanity had descended beneath the surface of the world, finding tissues beneath bodies, cells beneath tissues, chemistry beneath cells, quarks beneath atoms. The simple things, the eternally stable and unvarying things, the things of pure causality and math, beneath the world of surface appearances forever in flux. The laws of gravity that Newton had laid down, that seemed in retrospect to have governed every piece of the solar system since forever; and even when the orbital precession of Mercury had been discovered, an exception to Newton’s laws, Einstein had come along and discovered the new theory, the new universal, the new rule that was revealed to have always governed since the beginning. The true rules were the same everywhere and every when for every part of the universe, you didn’t have special cases for different surface appearances and exceptions whenever it was convenient, that was what humanity had learned over the last three thousand years, not to mention that the mind was the brain and the brain was made of neurons and if you damaged the brain the mind lost the corresponding ability, destroy the hippocampus and the person lost the ability to form new memories, a brain was what a person was—
And then a woman turned into a cat, so much for all that.

I'm loving it. If you haven't already read Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality (or have read it, but haven't checked back recently for updates), and enjoyed the original Harry Potter books, give it a try!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fail! Arguments against vegetarianism

I want to address a few arguments against vegetarianism. These arguments are not sophisticated, but nor are they a strawmen - they are all arguments that I have been presented with.

The argument from nature (this one I hear from Dad over and over again) 
Humans evolved as hunter-gatherers. Our bodies are adapted to an omnivorous diet, look, we have canines. It is natural for us to eat meat.

Yes we have evolved to eat meat. However, biology is not destiny. If you have ever used a form of contraception to allow you to have sex without the risk of bringing a child into the world, this shouldn't be news to you.

The assumption that what can be found in nature is good and right is common but misplaced. The naturalness of something should not determine if it is ethical. It is natural for the strong to take from the weak, for the elderly and those with disabilities to be left to die, for men to take women by force if they can't get them by other means. Unless you are prepared to argue that natural = good in all cases (in which case you are a psychopath and I don't want to talk to you), don't use it at all.

As for the canines, we also have an appendix. It is not unusual to be left with an evolutionary relic that is no longer needed, and certainly our canines are no longer needed; even for meat eaters, ripping and tearing uncooked flesh is something of an oddity.

The argument from religion - Genesis 9:3 - Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. And as I gave you the green plants, I give you everything.
First of all, I consider the Bible to be a authored by man rather than God, so I reject the premise of this argument. However, if you are inclined to take it at face value, consider the following. The Bible endorses or condones many things that most people today consider repellent. To list just a small sample, they include slavery, genocide, the marring a rape victim to her rapist, and the stoning of disobedient sons. Many Christians are vegetarian, and find Genesis 9:3 or other passages insufficient justification for the eating of meat

The argument from nutrition - It's not possible/very difficult to get sufficient nutrients without eating meat. You can't get enough protein. Vegetarians always look sickly.
There have been a number of vegetarian/vegan Olympic gold medallists, some Australians include Lauren Burns (vegetarian, Taekwondo, 2000) and Murray Rose (vegan, swimming 1956 and 1960). Perhaps they were better off for their diets, perhaps they would have been even stronger with a bit of meat. It's impossible to know for sure. However, they managed to reach the pinnacle of human athletic achievement without meat consumption, so one could hardly call them "sickly".

Yes, it is true that some vegetarians have poor nutrition. Plenty of people have poor eating habits, vegetarians and omnivores alike. However, when an omnivore has poor nutrition, but this is not blamed on the omnivorous diet. There are plenty of studies that show that vegetarians are actually healthier than the average population. I'm not going to give them a huge amount of weight, since they are mostly observational rather than experimental: vegetarians may be more healthy on average because many people become vegetarian for health reasons, and are therefore more conscious of what they eat than the average person. However, to use some blanket statement of "vegetarians aren't healthy" or "vegetarians always look underfed" or "vegetarians can't possibly get enough nutrition" is just being ignorant.

The argument from food production - Without meat, we wouldn't be able to feed the planet's growing population.
This argument fails on basic chemistry. It may be valid if one day we can grow meat in a laboratory (which I wouldn't object to), but as it stands, meat is an inefficient way of delivering protein to the body. Sure, it delivers a lot of protein in one small packet, but how much protein (wheat, soy etc) did that beast have to eat to mature? How many acres of grass did that beast need to graze on, and could that land have been used for human edible crops? In his book The Ethics of What We Eat (2006, p. 232), Peter Singer explains how it takes on average about 13kg of grain fed to a cow to produce 1kg of beef, 6:1 for pork, and about 3:1 for chickens. Even if you are inclined to doubt these figures (though these are figures generous to the meat industry), it is clearly obvious that an animal will require more food than it produces. There may be exceptions where the raising of animals for food could allow more food to be produced than otherwise (e.g. goats/cattle on hillsides too steep for cultivation), but certainly, if we are serious about feeding the world's growing population while limiting the clearing of land, less rather than more meat is the answer.

The argument from enjoyment - Meat tastes good, so there!
I happen to agree that meat tastes good, but is that has ceased to be sufficient justification for me. Let me illustrate. Would it feel good to have personal slaves looking after your every whim? If their enslavement didn't bother you, as it didn't bother people in many cultures throughout history, then yes, it would feel good. Does this make it ethically good, or at least ethically neutral? Something that feels good can only be justifiable if it either causes no harm to others, or if the harm to others can be dismissed as unimportant (only a woman, only a slave, only a nigger, only an animal). Masturbation causes no harm to others = ok. Factory farming causes incredible levels of animal suffering = not ok.

If you think I've missed something important, feel free to let me know in the comments.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

My first ever rally

Sometimes I wonder if me going back to uni is just an excuse to "do uni properly", to do the things uni students are supposed to do, except in Toowoomba, where they just get drunk but skip the activism. Well, I'm still not keen on the drunken partying, but yesterday I tried my hand at a bit of activism, and went to a Rally for Marriage Equality and Mass Illegal Wedding, organised by Equal Love.

A rainbow flag

Friday, August 10, 2012

Mr Deity and the marriage

Mr Deity explains his vision of a broader concept of marriage:

Monday, August 6, 2012

67 years since Hiroshima

Today, the 6th of August, marks the 67th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Thursday the 9th will be the anniversary of Nagasaki.

One year ago today, I stood among thousands of people from around the world in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park for the annual Peace Memorial Ceremony. Together, we showed our solidarity to the cause of a nuclear weapon free future. This year, the grandson of the then president Harry Truman attended the ceremony. However, no president of the United States has ever attended, and that lack is noted by the Japanese people.

It is argued that more people, both Japanese and American, would have died if the bombs had not been dropped, and that may be true. Nevertheless, it was a horrific act with long-reaching consequences to the lives of innocents. The Japanese people take their experience as the world's only nuclear weapon victims seriously. All Yr. 6 students go on a school trip to either Hiroshima or Nagasaki to learn about the bombings first hand. Hibakusha (survivors of the bombings) travel to schools recounting their experiences and emphasising the need for peace. The rest of the world needs to take their lesson seriously too. We must not let it happen again.

If you haven't previously read it, I recommend you read my post on the Hiroshima Peace Museum. Visiting there was incredibly upsetting and draining, but if I could, I would send all the older children or adolescents of the world there, or a place like it, to make them see the human cost of war.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Journey to ethical eating: an update

I think it's time for an update on my personal journey to eat more ethically. Between the last post and moving, I moved to mostly vegetarian cooking. Since moving to Melbourne, I have cooked one meal utilising free-range chicken, and one with ordinary minced beef diluted with beans. All other food that I have prepared (and that has been most meals), have been meat free. We do have a friend living with us temporarily, and she occasionally cooks non-vegetarian meals, and I am currently adopting a "grateful not to be cooking attitude" and don't make a fuss. Eating out I have ordered vegetarian meals (with a couple of exceptions, I needed my Japanese comfort food!), but had tastes of Hunter's food where it looks good. He also tastes mine. There is also a local free-range charcoal chicken, where we have eaten a couple times, providing me with low guilt greasy fatty goodness.

All in all, I have been having some meat, but very little, especially for someone who up until very recently had some form of meat at almost every lunch and dinner, with the occasional breakfast thrown in. At no stage have I really wanted meat (except maybe desperately wanting katsudon when I saw in in a Japanese restaurant window). When I've eaten meat, it's been more a case of not yet being prepared to make a fuss. I'm really surprised at just how little I miss it.

Starting this, I was apprehensive about future food prospects, but so far, it's been great. I have discovered amazing food options that I would never have come across before. Recently, in a rather expensive Greek restaurant in the CBD, I had the most amazing meal I have ever eaten, an absolutely exquisite dish of gnochi, mushroom stuffed vine leaves, seasoned mushroom puree and extra mushroom. Eating it was an experience of pure bliss. I savoured, drooled over, every bite, no dead animal flesh required.

Having said all the above, I think the most important thing in my journey has been flexibility. I have left myself the option of eating meat, just less frequently, For me, having that option has left me quite satisfied to not eat it, whereas if meat was forbidden, I would become resentful and crave it.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Making cycling an accessible form of transport

In Japan, nearly everyone uses a bicycle as a form of transport at least some of the time. In Japan, nobody wears Lycra to get to work, or wherever else they might be going; Lycra wearers are rare and seen only on weekends when they're out for a ride. Everyday cyclists just wear whatever they're going to wear at their destination, be that jeans and a t-shirt, long flowing skirts, or a business suit.

In Australia, very few people use a bicycle as a form of transport. In Australia, Lycra wearers make up a large proportion of regular adult cyclists. Even those who aren't wearing Lycra frequently wear sporty clothes (and a hi-vis vest), and get changed when they reach their destination.

My bike has a brown seat and handles
When I returned from my year in Japan, I ditched my mountain bike and bought a vintage-styled bike. It's not a particularly good bike. It's not even good as the bike I had in Japan, despite coming with less included and costing more. It's pretty heavy for a start, and the gearing doesn't have as much range as I'd like. Unfortunately, bikes like the one I wanted are uncommon in Australia, and there's not much choice except beautiful but $1000+ European brands rather than the plethora of $100-$200 choices available in Japan. Despite all these gripes, I wouldn't swap my rather cheap new bike for either a top-of-the-line road or mountain bike. What it gives me is freedom and flexibility and comfort:
  • The step-through frame combined with a chain guard means that I can wear a skirt or dress when cycling. My wardrobe is not limited by what is bike-safe. In Japan, men use step-through frames too, because it allows carrying a large load on the back (or, frequently, a passenger), without having to swing one's leg over the load.
  • I have a basket in the front, and have just added one at the back. I can carry my uni books or a small grocery run, and won't get a sweaty back from wearing a backpack.
  • The upright posture is much more comfortable. My neck doesn't get sore from having to look up to see in front of me, I'm naturally looking out rather than down. Also, I don't need to worry about exposing (and burning) skin where my shirt meets my pants.
  • No more sore bum, even with the standard seat. Also, I found that my bike in Japan with suspension only in the seat was more comfortable to ride over rough ground than Hunter's mountain bike with full suspension. This was mostly because on an upright bike, your hands aren't weight bearing, so you don't get jarring through your arms.

A lot of effort is being made by various groups to try and increase the number of cyclists and thus take cars off the road, but they're doing it all wrong. The message that people receive is that in order to ride a bike to work, they need a fancy expensive bike and get kitted out in full Lycra. This is bound to intimidate more people than it encourages. There needs to be a greater range of options, to suit different attitudes to cycling, and the Japanese/European styled commuter bike has the potential to appeal to a much broader cross-section of society than the high-end bikes. If instead cycling is made accessible to the ordinary person, by showing them how simple it can be to just jump on a bike at point A, and hop off it again at point B, without the need for a change of clothes, a shower, or a race against the cars, how many more people could we take out of cars and put onto bikes?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Back on the bike

After having lived in Japan for, it seemed natural to me to continue cycling, after all, it had been my primary form of transport for a year. It's environmentally friendly, practically free, and helps me to keep fit. However, I quickly found that the hilliness of Toowoomba, combined with our peripheral location, made it impractical to reach many places at all by bike.

Off to O-Week
All is well again. We now live within easy walking/cycling distance of a train station, and, more importantly, I live within cycling distance of uni. 

I also have a shiny new bike that's as street-practical as I could find from the low-budget end of the bicycle market. For me, this means I can wear normal clothing, including skirts and dresses, and also carry things other than just in a backpack.

It has a front basket, mudguards, and a rear rack which will have a back basket attached next week (yay! groceries!). What it didn't automatically come with (and would have in Japan) are skirt guards to prevent clothing tangling in the spokes, a pedal-powered light, and somewhat strangely, a bell.

It takes me about 20 minutes to ride to uni, and about 15 to come home again, and it's quite a pleasant ride, except when it's raining, like it was today.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Can men and women be friends?

On the radio recently, I heard the start of a conversation about whether men and women can be friends (without sexual attraction complicating things). So here's another take on the same question. Can bisexuals have friends (without sexual attraction complicating things)?

Sure, some people probably aren't capable of being friends with someone who has the remotest potential of becoming a romantic interest. Some people aren't capable of maintaining friendships at all. But taking men and women and lumping them into supposedly cohesive blocks so that generalisations can be made that are supposed to apply to all individuals? Well, I guess things like that are just the stock of radio talk.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The dreaded pink

A few days ago, I bought a label printer. Somehow, this rather obscure act brought back one of my pet peeves.

I'm not overly fond of the colour pink. I wouldn't say that I hate it, but I would very very rarely choose pink over any other colour. Except... Except when purchasing pink products mean a donation to breast cancer research/support. I had a choice of three products. One blue, one silver, one pink. All the same price, only the pink one gave $1 to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. I then had to wrestle with my conscience, to pink and do good, or not to pink, and thus not have pink. This time, the pink won out. That doesn't mean I have to be happy about it. Breast cancer happens (mostly) to women. Pink is the feminine colour. Therefore, paint everything pink. Argh!

Monday, July 9, 2012

On moving and unpacking

After a few weeks of being consumed by packing our stuff up, and now purchasing all the things we need to properly set up house for the first time, this resonates:


Sunday, July 8, 2012

We're in Melbourne

We left for Melbourne Tuesday morning and arrived early Wednesday afternoon. The drive was pertty uneventful. We spent most of the trip listening to an audio-book of Stephen Fry's Moab is my Washpot. Stephen Fry is an excellent travelling companion.

We are as settled in as we can be considering that our furniture and most of our other stuff isn't going to arrive until Friday. We've done quite a bit of shopping for homewares, and exploring the area, but have no Internet due to some problem during the connection process. Telstra is on it...

I have fallen in love with Melbourne. There are so many exciting food shops around! In our suburb, there is an Asian food store that is probably the size of all the Asian food stores in Toowoomba combined, and had me drooling and jumping up and down with excitement. There are people from all over the world around. It seems that everything we could possibly want access to is close by, and I have even managed to drive a bit without crashing or dying or anything dramatic at all.

Hopefully, I'll have more time to explore in the next week, and I'll be able to describe some of the highlights of the area.

Argh! Removalists! - Part 2

So I thought the removalists were going to come on Sunday, but I didn't hear anything from them. I checked my emails, and realised that the date in the email was for Monday. I was pretty sure I'd heard Sunday, but it did seem a bit odd, I probably had mis-heard it. Monday was fine.

On Monday morning I called up the removalists to find out what time they were coming. I was told they'd call me back with a time. They didn't. A bit over an hour later, I called again, and was informed that they were loading up in Brisbane, and  would give me a call a call when they were on their way to Toowoomba. We waited for the call. At about 3:00pm, I called again, and was informed that they weren't actually going to take our job, as the job in Brisbane had blown out, and there wasn't room for our stuff.

I was furious. It was obvious that they had known this for some time already, and hadn't bothered to let me know. They wouldn't be able to take our stuff until Thursday now. We had now been stood up twice by Moving Again. Thursday meant at least another 3 days delay, and what were the chances that our stuff would even make it onto the truck that time? ARGH!

In the end, with the help of Mum and her partner, we got onto Grace, who were able to pick up our stuff the next morning. They even gave an estimated arrival time, and arrived pretty close to it, I'm not sure exactly, as we were gone by then anyway. Hopefully, the next post on removalists will be to say that our stuff has arrived and that will be the end of it.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Ethical shopping

A large percentage of the goods we consume are produced by people in developing countries, working in terrible conditions, earning barely enough to survive. Some of these people are effectively slaves.

One solution popular in leftist circles is to remove yourself from the exploitative chain of supply and demand. Instead of buying clothing produced in Chinese (or other) sweatshops, buy locally produced goods, or even better, make your own.  Even important and valuable organisations like Oxfam falls prey to this fallacy. Their recommendation (at least on their Australian site): buy Australian made:
If clothing carries the Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) label it means the garment was manufactured in Australia and the manufacturer has committed to ensuring that all of the people involved in its production received, as a minimum, the legally stated wage rates and conditions — known in Australia as award wages and conditions.
Here's the rub though. If you buy locally, you're not actually helping, in fact, you might actually be doing harm. Sure, you can soothe your conscience, because you're no longer complicit in the exploitation, and buying local isn't bad in and of itself. However you are in no way actually helping those exploited people. The problem is that these people are mostly working under terrible circumstances because they need the work, they need the money. Yes the conditions are appalling, but for them, enduring these conditions is better than the alternative: no income at all. By buying ethically Australian made clothing, you are ensuring that more Australians are employed, and you might even help lift some Australians are lifted out of poverty. However, if enough people make the same decision, then people barely earning enough to survive lose their jobs. It doesn't take a genius to work out that although all poverty is terrible and soul-crushing, there's a world of difference between poverty in Australia, and poverty in the developing world.

I'm not turning into a sweatshop advocate, far from it. However, we need to recognise that issues such as this are far from black and white, and the people who advocate simply shutting down sweatshops have not thought through the consequences of their ideals. If sweatshops just close down, the workers need to find other work, often being forced into more hazardous lines of work. For example,
The Harkin Bill ... was introduced into the US Congress in 1992 with the laudable aim of prohibiting the import of products made by children under 15 ... As of September 1996, the Bill had yet to find its way onto the statute books. But the mere threat of such a measure panicked the garment industry of Bangladesh, 60 per cent of whose products — some $900 million in value — were exported to the US in 1994. Child workers, most of them girls, were summarily dismissed from the garment factories. A study sponsored by international organizations took the unusual step of tracing some of these children to see what happened to them after their dismissal. Some were found working in more hazardous situations, in unsafe workshops where they were paid less, or in prostitution.
UNICEF - The State of the World's Children, 1997
If we actually care about the people working in sweatshops, what we need to do is provide them with a real alternative. They don't need to be paid the same as Australian workers, at least not yet, not until their economies catch up to ours. What they do need is to be paid a living wage, enough to support themselves and their families. Enough that the parents can earn sufficient money that they don't need to send their children to work. Enough so they can afford to send their children to school, because access to work without education will never break the poverty cycle. They need to have safe working conditions. Most of all, we, as consumers, need to support those companies that provide such employment opportunities in the developing world.

Of course, it's easy enough to say that, it's more difficult to carry out, especially as it can be difficult to make informed decisions. Some things are pretty easy. When buying chocolate, tea or coffee, look out for the Fair Trade logo. Yes, I know the system isn't perfect, but for us ordinary consumers, it's the best information we can get. It won't necessarily cost more either. Since Cadbury started producing Dairy Milk as fair trade, I've bought it almost exclusively. For cosmetics, I've started buying from the Body Shop. It's more expensive than what I used to buy, but that's fair - before, someone else was paying the price.

Beyond a few basic items though, finding ethically produced products becomes difficult, as there is no accredited international system of recognition. Take clothing. Ethically produced clothing tends to be hard to buy in brick and mortar stores, and buying expensive clothing without trying it on is not a risk many people, myself included, are keen to take. Also, most ethically produced clothing is hippy styled. I don't take issue with that per se, it's just that I want more variety in order to suit my personal sense of style. I don't mind a bit of hippy, but I want more than that. I also want to be able to dress ethical business, ethical dressy, ethical jeans and t-shirt, and have it fit and flatter.

As for electronics, forget ethically produced, all we can hope for at this stage is least damaging. About all I've been able to find is an assessment of the use of conflict minerals, but that's far from the whole picture.

I'm not advocating purchasing some brands and boycotting others. What I'm suggesting is that next time you buy something, especially if it's something that you buy regularly like coffee, chocolate or moisturiser, think about where it came from, who is profiting from your purchase, and if you could buy a slightly different product that shares that profit more equitably. A small change in our purchasing habits could make a world of difference to people currently living in poverty, no handouts required.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Argh! Removalists!

I can't remember the last time we moved with removalists. I think I was six. Since then, we've always moved with the help of friends with utes and trucks. Unfortunately, when it comes to moving interstate, there's not much choice.

So now it's time to name and shame. First, Ron Bedford Removals. I got a quote, timing info, and a very friendly phone call. It looked good and I thought we'd go with them. I sent an email with a few questions, but got no response. The next week, I followed it up with several phone calls. I left a message asking to be called back, and twice got onto an assistant, who promised me both times that Ron would call me back. He never did. I assume he got a more lucrative job, and found telling me so too difficult.

Of course, there had not been any official agreement with that job, just a lack of expected courtesies. I got back into sending emails, and found another removalist company that could take us on short notice, Moving Again. Pick-up was arranged for Friday 29th, although we weren't provided with a time. A deposit was paid. Friday morning we woke up early to make sure that everything would be ready. At 9:00 am, I called their head office to enquire what time we could expect the removalists to come. The guy at head office told me he'd call the contractor, and call me back. When he called back, he was extremely apologetic, and told me that the contractor had decided not to do our job, and had let neither us nor head office know. Argh! Is it really that hard for removalists to communicate about things like this? Fortunately, the guy at Head Office at Moving Again found a different contractor who will pick up our stuff on Sunday. Hopefully, this time it will happen...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Natural remedies vs medicine

It's a tired trope that seems to be trotted out again and again. Pharmaceutical companies are evil, are only there to make money, promote drug dependencies and drug-fixes for lifestyle problems. We should use natural medicine instead. For the purposes of this post, I'm going to focus on herbal/plant-based medicine, but many of my arguments apply to any alternative treatments.

I'm not going to argue that drug companies are squeaky clean and altruistically motivated. They're not. If you want to learn about some of the medically and scientifically questionable things they're up to, listen to this fantastic TED talk by Ben Goldacre. However, admitting that one player has problems does not mean that the opponent is any better. For example, I don't like many of the Labour Party polices. However, that does not mean I think the answer to all our problems lies with the LNP.

The thing is that despite its quite obvious limitations, medicine still has a huge advantage over alternative medicine. To quote the brilliant Tim Minchin:
By definition”, I begin
“Alternative Medicine”, I continue
“Has either not been proved to work,
Or been proved not to work.
You know what they call “alternative medicine”
That's been proved to work?
Actually, if the above lines are not familiar to you, go and watch Storm now, and then you can come back to reading this post.

Mainstream medicine actually utilises a lot of "natural and "traditional" remedies. To list a few:
  • Aspirin was discovered by studying the pain relieving properties of willow bark
  • Quinine is an anti-malarial drug originally derived from the bark of the cinchona tree and used by groups of native Peruvians. It is no longer heavily used as it has unpleasant side-effects, but is still used to treat severe cases.
  • Morphine is the most effective pain relief known to modern medicine, originally derived from the opium poppy. Most strong painkillers are opioids .
In fact, here's a list of well over 100 plant derived drugs. This far from incomplete list shows that medicine has learned much from "natural" remedies. It's just that in order for natural remedies to be accepted into mainstream medicine, a few things are required:
  1. Rigorous scientific testing to establish an actual effect, and to check for side-effects
  2. A study of the chemical structure of the plant/source to establish which chemical(s) have the active effect
  3. Isolation of that compound, preferably finding a way to artificially synthesise it, to ensure that controlled dosages can be administered.
I expect that mainstream medicine still has a lot to learn from the traditional remedies of various cultures, and indeed it is still an important area of study (for an example, see the research conducted by SATREPS). It's just that until rigorous scientific testing has been carried out, it is not possible to know which natural remedies are helpful, which do nothing, and which are actively harmful. Even with natural remedies that have no effect, the results can be deadly if they delay or replace treatment with real medicine. So until these natural remedies are proven to work, and thus accepted into mainstream medicine, I'm not going to use them, and when I do, they will no longer be alternative, they'll just be medicine.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Let's do the time warp again

Yay! Queensland has officially moved backwards in human rights. Civil Unions have been "downgraded".

But it's ok, really:

''They lose nothing from this change,'' Mr Newman said today of LGBT community members who had fought hard for the right to register their relationships.
That's right, same-sex couples are still allowed to register their relationships and have a private ceremony, they're just not allowed to have a state sanctioned ceremony. I feel re-assured, they're not losing anything. So if we took away heterosexual couples right to a state-sanctioned ceremony, I guess us heterosexuals wouldn't be losing anything either. We should pass that as the next piece of stupid legislation.

Here's another brilliant quote from the article:
Mr Newman said state-sanctioned ceremonies were what offended Christian groups opposed to civil unions, beause [sic] they appeared to mimic marriage.
That's right, who cares about the how the LGBT people feel about having their rights taken away, Conservative Christians are the real victims; we must be careful not to offend them, regardless of how that has real impacts on other peoples lives.

Since one piece of bigoted legislation with strong religious overtones isn't enough, surrogacy laws are also being rolled back, with the option of surrogacy now being limited to married couples, and heterosexual de-facto couples of more than two years. If a teenage girl accidentally falls pregnant with a child she doesn't want, she has to show medical necessity for an abortion.[1] Somehow, "a child needs a mother and a father" is not such important rhetoric then, who cares if the child is unlikely have the financial and emotional support it need. Yet if one or two people desperately want a child, have found someone who cares about them and trusts in them enough to serve as a surrogate mother, and are well placed to care for a child, both financially and emotionally, well, that's un-natural and immoral and plain wrong. Wake-up call! Surrogacy is not natural. It's not natural even if the recieving couple is heterosexual. Natural does not equal good. Deal with it.

I'm very depressed with society right now.

[1] In Queensland, abortion is generally regarded as lawful if performed to prevent serious danger to the woman’s physical or mental health, despite abortion being contained in the Criminal Code. Women and doctors can be criminally prosecuted for accessing or providing abortion 

N Cica, Abortion Law in Australia Parliament of Australia Library, Research Brief 1, 1998-1999.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Marriage and sexism in the workplace

I've just read an unsurprising but nevertheless interesting study of how men's marital arrangements impact their attitudes towards women in their workplaces. Specifically, they investigated if a married heterosexual man's relationship is with his wife is predictive of how that man will view and interact with women in his workplace.

A summary of their findings is below.
...we found that employed husbands in traditional [wife not employed] and neo-traditional [wife employed part time] marriages, compared to those in modern marriages [wife employed full time], tend to (a) view the presence of women in the workplace unfavorably, (b) perceive that organizations with higher numbers of female employees are operating less smoothly, (c) find organizations with female leaders as relatively unattractive, and (d) deny, more frequently, qualified female employees opportunities for promotion

Study 1 used survey results to measure explicitly sexist attitudes with regards to gender roles (i.e. men should be the breadwinners, women should raise children and keep house).

Study 2 again used survey results, this time to look at perceived organisational smoothness relative to the number of female employees.

Study 3 asked job seekers to evaluate one of two recruitment letters. The letters were identical, except that one had the names of male recruiters, and the statement "INDSCO’s equal employment opportunity programs ensure that all employees can get ahead in our company", while the second had the names of female recruiters, and the statement "INDSCO’s equal employment opportunity programs ensure that all employees can get ahead in our company. For example, representation of women on our board of directors far exceeds the average representation of women in Fortune 500 companies."

Study 4 asked managers to evaluate one of two identical candidates to be sponsored through an MBA program with a promotion to Vice President upon completion of the studies. One candidate had an unambiguously male name, the other a female name.

Across all four studies, marriage structure was statistically significantly indicative of attitudes towards women in the workplace, with men in traditional marriages being more negative than men in modern egalitarian marriages.

Of course correlation is not causation, and the marriage structure itself may be indicative of attitudes held prior to the marriage, for example religious beliefs or an otherwise conservative upbringing. Nor does this mean that men with stay-at-home wives are automatically sexist, either explicitly or implicitly. It does however show (surprise surprise) that personal attitudes do affect professional decisions, specifically decisions made by men that determine career opportunities for women. By gaining a better understanding of the influences on these decisions, organisations can better work towards negating these influences and developing a more egalitarian workplace. Being confronted with this information can also help men who do not wish to be sexist, either implicitly or explicitly, to more accurately consider their own behaviours and attitudes, and how these might be influenced by the work decisions of their wife (or partner).

Via Feministe

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gone over to the dark side

I have an admission to make. I'm a turncoat who is ditching IT and going to study Arts.

I'm going to study a Bachelor of Letters at Monash. The Bachelor of Letters is a 2-year Arts degree - I get to cut off one year since I already have a degree.

I'll be studying Philosophy and some other equally useful stuff, and with any luck I'll end up with a career in academia.

Stand by for more rambling, as Hunter says, this is likely to make me even more opinionated. I can't wait!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Musings on food ethics

I have always been and still am a meat-lover. I love the taste of meat, just about any meat really, and in most meals the meat is the part I enjoy the most, the part that I save on my plate until last so I can finish my meal with the best part. However, in the past couple of years (since my brother turned vegetarian), I've started to think about whether my enjoyment of meat is sufficient justification. Although I am not an animal lover, I find many practices of factory farming horrific, and by consuming products of factory farming, I am endorsing practices that consider the welfare of the animal to only be of importance if it negatively impacts the bottom line.

As soon as I started to honestly consider the topic, it became apparent that, at least for those of us living in the developed world, every argument for meat eating is a cover for the only reason that matters to most people, namely "I want to." While there may be room for argument with regards to humanely raised and slaughtered animals, there is no way to justify the horrific conditions under which the vast majority of animals we eat are raised and killed, just so we can eat cheap meat whenever we want. The only way we can continue to do so is by doing what I have been doing: refusing to think about it because we don't like the implications of where that thought might take us.

I've finally made the decision to think things through, and that means that I've had to start to make changes in my life. I'm starting off slowly because I want to make sure that the changes are ones that I can sustain for the long term. My current status is:
  • Only free-range or home produced eggs
  • If I'm preparing food just for me it won't have meat
  • In a restaurant, I give precedence to the vegetarian options, but if it/they don't look appealing, or something else is just overwhelmingly good, then I'm not sticking hard by it
  • When cooking at home, I'm mostly cooking meat-free, and while I'm currently still working through freezer meat supplies, I will try to source organic/free-range meat for meat-containing meals
  • When visiting someone, I eat what I'm given

I've been experimenting a lot with meat-free meals, and to my surprise, I haven't found myself missing meat. The meals have tasted fantastic, and the cost of meals is much less, which is great as we're currently living off savings. I'm still researching the issues and deciding where I will draw the line. However, my current aim is to cut out factory farmed animal products, which to me at this stage seems to be the bare minimum I should do.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Recently, I was eating dinner with a few friends, with the news playing on the TV in the background, when a segment about Syria came up. I voiced my opinion that peacekeeping troops should be sent in with a mandate to protect civilians.

X: We should just leave them to kill each other.
Me: You can't be serious.
X: Yes I am.
Me: But a few days ago, 49 children under the age of 10 were brutally murdered, some with their faces sliced off.
X: And if they grow up they'll be no better.

The conversation continued a bit, but didn't progress anywhere. I was too horrified to be able to construct much of an argument. I felt ill. I knew, in an abstract sort of way that there were plenty of callous, heartless people out there, but this was someone I knew, someone I liked, who openly said that it was a good thing that children were being brutally murdered, because of the part of the world into which they had been born, and who they might become.

It's taken me a few days to be able to rationalise this out, to move past the complete revulsion to understand that X is not a bad person, he just has some very bad ideas. He has lead an extremely privileged life, and is unable or unwilling to imagine himself living life in a less privileged part of the world. Having said that, my opinion of X has changed. Unless I see evidence of a change of stance, my new understanding of his character will cast a permanent shadow over our relationship.

If you find yourself agreeing with X's position, I challenge you to watch Hotel Rwanda, or even better, read An Ordinary Man, the autobiography of Paul Rusesabagina, on whose story Hotel Rwanda was based. Understand that behind the conflict (and poverty) statistics that we see on TV are human lives with no less value than our own.

No, we cannot help everyone. That does not mean that we should not bother to help anyone. Nor does it mean that the death of a child in a far off part of the world is any less tragic than if it happened here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Menal malleability

One thing that I really became aware of by living for a year in Japan was just how malleable many of my likes and dislikes are. While the evidence seems to point to the fact that the major personality traits are largely innate and unchangeable,  likes and dislikes are highly influenced by culture. Take for example fashion.

Daily clothing in Japan is definitely Western, yet distinctly unique. Skirts tend to be short and pleated, lace is found on most things, and polka-dots and bows reign supreme. I see a lot of 50's influence in Japanese clothing of today, yet I repeat, it is uniquely Japanese.

Why is this relevant? When I arrived in Japan, much of the fashion seemed strange to me. I tend to be a slow adopter of fashion trends, even in Australia, yet living in Japan made me realise that despite being a slow adopter, I nevertheless adopt, and so I came to adopt many of the fashion trends of Japan. I started wearing shorts over black tights. I started wearing a lot more lace. I bought 3 pairs of pants with built in suspenders. I layered singlets under anything a little more revealing, even on non-work days, becoming self-conscious about cleavage because nobody else showed any. My style was not Japanese, the kids were quite clear on that. Nevertheless, it was not the sense of style I arrived with.

In nothing was this more obvious than in the socks. Many Japanese girls wear lace-topped socks with ankle boots or sandals. I bought myself several pairs of these socks, which I truly love. I wore them quite a lot in Japan, and resolved that I would continue to wear them when I returned. Yet I've only worn a pair once, and felt quite self-conscious about them. I love them and still want to wear them, but they're just a bit too different over here.

Fashion is, on the whole, trivial. Yet it makes me consider how (non) resistant I am to cultural conditioning in other areas.