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.