Category Archives: Politics and society

Sunday spam: muesli bars and gummy snakes

Muesli bars and gummy snakes are what I ate at about 7am before my recent 9am childbirth… thus thematically appropriate for this small collection of links, some of which I’ve had sitting around for a while.

Using WOC in the Natural Childbirth Debate: A How-To Guide.

If you are a progressive in the Natural Childbirth Movement (or any other, for that matter), use Africa City women to promote the idea that “natural is better.” Talk about women who toil in the fields, squat down to give birth and return to picking rice. Or peanuts. Or anything else that can be picked. After all, the women of Africa City are resilient! Strong. So strong that they do not even require support from the other women of Africa City. Or medication. Or comfort. This example–of giving birth in the field–illustrates how over-reliant “we” have become on useless technology. Of course, you don’t expect “us” to be quite that strong. We are not beasts of burden, after all…

If you oppose the Natural Childbirth Movement (or any other, for that matter), use Africa City women to remind “us” of how bad “we” used to have it, before all of our live-saving medical advances. If women die in childbirth in Africa City, it is only because they lack the Modern Technology we should be grateful that every last one of “us” has unfettered access to. Use infant mortality statistics from the most war-torn countries to argue why a healthy woman from Portland shouldn’t give birth in her bathtub with a midwife who carries oxygen and a cell phone. Redact all mentions of Africa City women who are not hopelessly impoverished. Ignore those who are systematically abused with Modern Technology, sacrificed as Guinea pigs on its altar. All bad outcomes in Africa City are due to the lack of Medical Technology, never unrelated to it, and certainly never caused by it.

Early Labour and Mixed Messages

The emphasis on hospital as a place of safety whilst also encouraging women to stay away results in some very contradictory messages and ideas (please note these statements do not represent my own views)[…] We are the experts in your labour progress, our clinical assessments can predict your future labour progress… we will send you home if you are found to be in early labour… if you then birth your baby in the car park it is not our fault as birth is unpredictable[…] This is a safe place to labour…. but you can only access this safety when you reach a particular point in your labour… preferably close to the end of your labour i.e. you should do most of it on your own away from safety.

Warning for discussion of pregnancy loss. The Peculiar Case of Miscarriage in Pop Culture

Miscarriage is a tricky cultural thing, pop culture or not. It’s a deeply forbidden subject, much like many other things deemed ‘mysteries of womanhood,’ like menstruation, like pregnancy itself. People don’t talk about miscarriages and that discouragement means that many people aren’t aware of how common they are, let alone how devastating they can be. When people lose a child, they can reach out to their community for help and they are given space and time for healing. When they lose a fetus, they’re expected to keep it to themselves.

Sadly, sometimes pro-choice people can be the most vehement about this, concerned about blurring the lines between fetus and child, and saying that claiming a fetus is morally or ethically equivalent to a fully-developed, extrauterine human being could be dangerous. This makes the mistake of applying broad strokes to the issue, though. Legally, of course, a fetus should not be equivalent to a child. Personally, however, losing a wanted pregnancy is an intensely emotional experience and it can feel on some level to the parents like losing a child, with the added burden of not being allowed to acknowledge it, talk about it, or ask for help.

Fun at LCA 2013: my picks for Thursday and Friday

Thursday

I rarely go to LCA’s tutorials, but really, after years of not having to worry too much about distributed version control systems due to having in-house technical support from my husband, a (now former) Bazaar developer, it’s probably time that I came to grips with git. Hence Git For Ages 4 And Up (Michael Schwern) is tempting, hopefully it’s OK for those of us who do use terms like “directed acyclic graph”. This does mean missing Wiggle while you work (Neil Brown) though: apparently you can’t be a git beginner whilst being interested in newfangled patching algorithms.

After lunch The IPocalypse – 20 months later (Geoff Huston) calls to me: it’s the sequel to his LCA 2011 keynote, which is the one that stood out to me. (Well, and Mark Pesce’s, yes, but funnily enough his actual content largely passed me by.) All that doom and gloom, and now what? Has IPv6 cost us our Internet?

A Tridge talk (Building a free software telemetry radio system) is an even more obvious pick than a Matthew Wilcox talk. (Although why did we put that particular talk up against Buffer Bloat? Tridge is going to talk about TCP performance issues.)

In the afternoon Keith Packard has a new passion (Teaching Robotics and Embedded Computing with Legos and Arduino) and then Ristretto: run-time types for JavaScript (Shane Stephens) sounds alarming. In a good way.

Friday

It might also be a two-tute LCA, with Beyond Alt Text: What Every Project Should Know About Accessibility (Denise Paolucci) up first. BUT NovaProva, or How I Did Six Impossible Things Before LCA (Gregory Banks) is the good crack (“NovaProva implements true reflection in C/C++”???), so… difficult!

After lunch, Asheesh Laroia’s Quantitative community management is closer to what I do but I am also curious about The real story behind Wayland and X (Daniel Stone). In the final session, probably Building Persona: federated and privacy-sensitive identity for the Web depending on how my conference energy is going.

And then where?

I’m headed back to the USA in March for PyCon, and I’m looking forward to having way (waaaaaay) less commitments than I did at Wikimania 2012, and therefore being able to catch more of the talks. And not dragging myself to my hotel room at 4pm to order crème brûlée room service because I am too tired to figure out how to work the lifts. (It was good crème brûlée though!) The Ada Initiative will probably be running some non-talk activities though, so it won’t be wall-to-wall talks. And then a second return to the USA for AdaCamp SF. And that really might be enough for one year, but if not, there’s always Kiwicon.

Fun at LCA 2013: my picks for Tuesday and Wednesday

I’m currently regarding LCA 2013 as my last LCA for a while. Never say never: LCA 2014 bids came in from Sydney (so, local to me) and Perth (where I’ve never been and would like to go). But I first went to LCA in 2001 and then later went to 2004 and since 2007 I’ve been to LCA every year, except for 2010 and that only because I had a baby in the middle of the conference.

LCA used to be my main way of reconnecting with open source while I was working on my PhD. But now I work for the Ada Initiative and open source (and open stuff) events are a big part of my job. While I have more time and energy for conferences I am attending them for very different reasons now and the lure of the new is getting strong.

Because my volunteer time is diminishing, LCA 2013 is definitely the last LCA in which I will have had significant input into the program (Michael Davies and I are co-chairs of the conference program this year, as we were for 2010). So, it’s something of a farewell tour for me and I’m looking forward to the program we worked so hard putting together.

Monday

… actually my non-LCA-ing family is still in town Monday, so I’ll probably go to Bdale Garbee’s keynote and then hang out with them. Off to a great start here, I know.

Tuesday

Radia Perlman’s keynote is the keynote I am most looking forward to this year. Following that several of my peeps are giving Haecksen talks before lunch:

  • Feminism, anarchism and FOSS – Skye Croeser
  • Overcoming imposter syndrome – Denise Paolucci
  • Security – Joh Pirie-Clarke

People may be especially interested in the Imposter Syndrome talk, Imposter Syndrome being the feeling that you’ve achieved your current position or status totally fraudulently and are going to be discovered any second and publicly humiliated. It’s very common among people who are in quite critical fields (like academia). Denise was among our Imposter Syndrome facilitators for AdaCamp DC.

I am not sure after lunch, but Web Animations: unifying CSS Transitions, CSS Animations, and SVG (Shane Stephens) is a definite contender. In the afternoon The Horrible History of Web Development (Daniel Nadasi) sounds interesting (although it’s the kind of talk where an abstract would be really useful in determining whether I want to go) but so do What we can learn from Erlang (Tim McNamara) and Concurrent Programming is not so difficult (Daniel Bryan)

Wednesday

Trinity: A Linux kernel fuzz tester (and then some) (Dave Jones) is very tempting in the first slot, but I think I will go to Think, Create & Critique Design (Andy Fitzsimon) because I want to “speak” design semiotics a little bit better and have for a long time. Talking to graphic designers is actually part of my job.

In the second slot I am not entirely sure, but probably Open Source and Open Data for Humanitarian Response with OpenStreetMap (Kate Chapman) since I periodically dabble in OpenStreetMap.

After lunch my pick is definitely Free and open source software and activism (Sky Croeser). I’ve been following Sky’s activism and research since the EFA lamb roast fun and met her at AdaCamp Melbourne. I want to hear what she has to say about (h)ac(k)tavism.

Not as sure about the following slot (in a moment of mischief, we put the DSD’s talk right after Sky’s, but I’m not especially interested) but the biggest contender is The future of non-volatile memory (Matthew Wilcox) because he usually is one of the highlights of the LCA lower-level technical talks.

The first slot after afternoon tea I am not committing, but it does contain Pia’s grand scheme Geeks rule over kings – the Distributed Democracy. After that I think Copyright’s Dark Clouds: Optus v NRL (Ben Powell) is required: it isn’t LCA without emerging feeling distinctly gloomy about the current state of the intellectual property framework.

Proving Australian citizenship when parents are born after 1986

I know people who’ve had trouble with this, and won’t tell their specific stories, but a note now that I am applying for a passport for my son.

Australian citizenship is no longer by right of birth: if you were born on or after 20 August 1986, there are various more complicated ways it is acquired. One is being born in Australia and having at least one parent who is an Australian citizen or permanent resident at the time of your birth. Therefore, my son’s passport application has this section:

Please mark which of these documents you will provide at interview (you must present the original):
to prove that the child is an Australian citizen or to prove that one of the child’s parents was either an Australian citizen or a permanent resident of Australia at the time of the child’s birth.

  • The child’s Australian passport issued on/after 01/01/2000 and valid at least two years
  • One parent’s full Australian birth certificate (parent born prior to 20/08/86)
  • One parent’s Australian passport (issued on/after 20/08/86, valid two years)
  • One parent’s Australian citizenship certificate
  • One parent’s Australian permanent resident status

Both my husband and I were born in Australia before 1986, and in addition we happened to hold Australian passports before our son was born in any case, so we have a surfeit of evidence that will satisfy them that he’s a citizen.

But people born in, say, September 1986 are turning 27 this year, and therefore there’s lots of parents and soon-to-be parents whose Australian birth certificates are not sufficient proof of their own Australian citizenship, let alone their child’s status. So it’s very easy to imagine a situation existing right now where someone will need to show up with a grandparent’s birth certificate in addition to a parent’s and their own, and so on. By 2040 or earlier a great-grandparent may be required if no one in the family has held passports in intervening generations (great-grandparent born before August 1986, has a child at age 18+ in 2004, a grandchild in 2022 and a great-grandchild in 2040).

The easiest way around this for citizen-parents seems to be making sure one holds an Australian passport — because it stands on its own, unlike post-1986 birth certificates — before a child’s birth, which is not really foremost in one’s mind at the time. Oh, and be sure to keep it in a safe place until you or any of your children need evidence of their citizenship (usually but not always when they first need a passport themselves), because without it they’ll be back in the same documentation pickle. An increasing number of Australian-born people are going to have to go through the prior process of assembling potentially burdensome proof of citizenship involving either a string of ancestral birth certificates*, or a bunch of evidence of Australian residence on their 10th birthday (see Table B in documenting citizenship). I’d have trouble now proving my own Australian residence at age 10, frankly.

Australia is far from alone in not awarding citizenship by right of birth alone, so I assume there’s either a lot of people around the world who struggle to get passports, or other countries have processes that are more mature and less reliant on finding an ancestor who was unconditionally a citizen.

* Or worse, trying to get hold of 40 year old evidence of someone’s permanent residency, which I suspect is not as available for purchase later on as birth certificates are.

How to do more writing, by someone who has never made any such resolution

Jonathan Lange asked on Google+ for ideas about keeping a “write more” resolution. I took over his comment section, and in the spirit of taking some of my own advice, here’s a synthesis of what I said there. Since not writing as much as I feel I ought is never a problem I’ve had, this advice is in the delightful genre of someone who has never needed the advice simply making some up and giving it to you anyway! Enjoy my half-baked ideas.

Re-use your writing. A lot of people I know spend an enormous amount of time on crafting lengthy, tightly argued emails. These count, and you can make them feel like they count by editing them for a sufficiently general audience and publishing them on your blog. This is one I actually do do: several of my Geek Feminism pieces originated in annoyed private emails I sent to close friends, or in IRC rants.

Accountability and incentives. This is like all of the “how to exercise more” advice: make it public, make it social. Make a public commitment, make a shared commitment with a fellow writer. Have a competition, one-sided or not (“I will write more blog entries than N will this year”?). Deadlines and someone who will be personally disappointed in you can be an excellent motivator (as long as it doesn’t tip you over into an avoidance cycle), and for writing there’s a whole profession which involves, in part, holding people to deadlines and being disappointed if they fail to meet them: so, find an editor.

Unfortunately, in order to get an editor one generally needs to pitch (leaving aside the whole question of finding an agent, especially when it comes to fiction), which means writing, so you will have to be motivated to do some writing before you can partially outsource your motivation to editors and deadlines.

Becoming a freelancer seems like a big effort in order to fulfil a personal goal to “write more”, but part of the attraction is that you can pitch to places that have a ready-made audience, which means that you have outsourced any implicit “write more in places people will read it and find it useful” goal; you don’t need to put an equal or greater amount of work into building an audience for your writing.

Specific goals. This assists with accountability. What does writing more mean? A certain wordcount? A certain number of blog entries? A certain number of pitches sent out? A certain number of pitches converted to published articles? All of these are more artificial but easier to keep accounts of than “write more”.

Spend money. Enrol in a course or similar. This adds deadlines too, typically.

Support the Ada Initiative

That time of year (a tradition has not yet been established) has come around again: the Ada Initiative is fundraising!

The what? The Ada Initiative is the charity that Valerie Aurora and I started in early 2011, supporting women in open technology and culture. Val and I have been working independently and together on supporting women in open source since circa 1999 (starting, in my case, when someone said something derogatory about my computing skills, in a university context*) and we were both at a transition point in our careers last year and decided to try and go pro. Everyone in open source is growing up and getting paid, the activists too!

Since then we’ve done a bunch of things:

  1. run two AdaCamps: cross-project summits for and about women in open tech and culture (to give an idea, at AdaCamp DC we had women who do GNOME programming, women who help run fandom organisations, and women from Wikipedia among many others)
  2. continued to work with conferences and communities to develop and promote the conference anti-harassment policies we developed in late 2010. Most recently a version was adopted by Google and linked from the Google IO 2012 homepage.
  3. developed our allies training workshop: we’re planning to develop a curriculum to train other people to run it
  4. worked with several companies and conferences to respond to sexist incidents or patterns in their community

I also appeared at Wikimania this year, to give a keynote on diversity ideals and strategies.

As for reasons to donate: let me share with you the argument that got me involved. They still motivate my work for the Ada Initiative. (I’ve been paid a salary for over a year now, but I donated my time through to July 2011.)

The basic reason is this: open technology and culture is changing the world. But all world-changing movements have problems with replicating the same old problems inside their communities: that the more boxes you check of Western, white, educated, male etc, the more you will find the community suited to putting you in leadership positions and the more you will benefit from it and change it to benefit you. Some areas of open technology and culture — famously, open source software development, but also, for example, Wikipedia editing — are notorious for low participation by women. For me the argument amounted to “I want to play too” but there are knock-on effects too: see Valerie’s Why We Need More Women In Open Source: The Founder Gap when it comes to employment.

At present this is do or die time: we have project experience and fundraising experience now. Our donation drive has 7 more days to run: if there’s not enough support out there for us to keep doing what we’re doing, we’ll need to re-think the idea that this is activism that it is possible to pay for.

I’d very much appreciate it if people who have benefited from open source, open knowledge, Creative Commons work and so on, especially people who have built a career from it or from having access to the community consider donating: it’s not a level playing field and it damn well should be!

* I don’t think it was the time that my tutor announced “oh hey, here’s our token woman” on the first day of semester, actually, but for the record: don’t do that.

Donation progress bar: donate now
Support the Ada Initiative‘s work for women in open technology and culture!

Sunday spam: porridge and honey

What is cultural appropriation?

The problem isn’t that cultures intermingle, it’s the terms on which they do so and the part that plays in the power relations between cultures. The problem isn’t “taking” or “borrowing”, the problem is racism, imperialism, white supremacy, and colonialism. The problem is how elements of culture get taken up in disempowering, unequal ways that deny oppressed people autonomy and dignity. Cultural appropriation only occurs in the context of the domination of one society over another, otherwise known as imperialism. Cultural appropriation is an act of domination, which is distinct from ‘borrowing’, syncretism, hybrid cultures, the cultures of assimilated/integrated populations, and the reappropriation of dominant cultures by oppressed peoples.

Aircraft Carriers in Space

An article about naval metaphors in fictional space warfare. Sometimes I suspect that I like science fiction meta way more than I like science fiction.

“I’m not like the other girls.”

A quote I saw making the Tumblr rounds, which said, “I’m not like other girls!” It went on to avow wearing Converse instead of heels, preferring computer games to shopping, so on and so forth. When I saw it, about 41,000 girls had said they weren’t like “the others.”

Is Australia in Danger of Becoming Greece? Austerity and Blackmail Down Under

It is not enough to respond to this ongoing rhetoric about Australia’s supposed calamitous future by pointing out, as Ms Gillard correctly did, that these comparisons are ridiculous given the state of European periphery countries. Yet the ideological blackmail is strangely telling, precisely because the financial sector in the form of the troika (the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank) has held Greece’s politicians hostage, forcing a slashing of the government in exchange for “bail-out” loans.

The Start-to-Hate Review System

The concept is simple: Rate media based on how long it takes to encounter something bigoted. The longer it takes, the better the media.

An Investigation Into Xinjiang’s Growing Swarm of Great Gerbils

I am subscribed to two “long form” websites: the picks of Long Reads, which focuses on newer pieces, and the editor’s picks of Longform, which tend to skew a little older. Hence, this, from McSweeny’s in January 2005. I always like a piece that clearly ended up not being about what the original pitch was about. In this case, the writer wanted (or supposedly wanted, I guess) to investigate a gerbil plague, and ended up writing an article about gerbil social structures, text messaging on Chinese phone networks, and, several times, the Black Death. Which is how I ended up reading Wikipedia articles about pandemics the same night I was getting sick with the first illness I’ve had since I got out of hospital.

Mariana Trench Explosion

I think of Randall Munroe as a science writer who happens to be funded by merchandise sales from a comic. I don’t regularly look at the comic any more but I follow his blag and his What If? Answering your hypothetical questions with physics, every Tuesday writing more closely. This What If? is one of my favourites to date, although it’s hard to beat the first one. However, this one features an excursion into unpublished work by Freeman Dyson. SO HARD TO CHOOSE.

Do bicycle helmets reduce head injuries?

It’s impossible to follow Liam Hogan on Twitter without becoming interested in urban transport issues. At the moment the big conversation is helmet laws in Australia, which are arguably interfering with take-up of bike share schemes (if you’re going to have to get hold of a helmet, you don’t just jump on the bike, hence, scheme falls apart), although see Why is Brisbane CityCycle an unmitigated flop? for several other reasons that scheme may be failing.

Anyway, this one: A new study reports the rate of hospitalisations for cycling-related head injuries in NSW has fallen markedly and consistently since 1990. The authors say it’s due to helmets and infrastructure.

The drugs don’t work: a modern medical scandal and Ben Goldacre: ‘It’s appalling … like phone hacking or MPs’ expenses’

Reboxetine is a drug I have prescribed. Other drugs had done nothing for my patient, so we wanted to try something new. I’d read the trial data before I wrote the prescription, and found only well-designed, fair tests, with overwhelmingly positive results. Reboxetine was better than a placebo, and as good as any other antidepressant in head-to-head comparisons… In October 2010, a group of researchers was finally able to bring together all the data that had ever been collected on reboxetine, both from trials that were published and from those that had never appeared in academic papers. When all this trial data was put together, it produced a shocking picture. Seven trials had been conducted comparing reboxetine against a placebo. Only one, conducted in 254 patients, had a neat, positive result, and that one was published in an academic journal, for doctors and researchers to read. But six more trials were conducted, in almost 10 times as many patients. All of them showed that reboxetine was no better than a dummy sugar pill. None of these trials was published. I had no idea they existed.

Given that I favourited two separate articles about this, I’m going to buy the book. Now you know.

Going blind? DRM will dim your world

[I]t turned out I needed Adobe Digital Editions to ‘manage my content’… It tried, of course, to force me to give Adobe my email and other details for the ‘Adobe ID’ that it assured me I needed to get full functionality. I demurred… and was confronted by a user interface that was tiny white text on a black background. Unreadable. Options to change this? If they exist, I couldn’t find them.

Getting this far had taken me half an hour fighting my way through a nest of misery and frustration with broken eyes and a sinking heart. Along the way, I’d been bombarded by marketing messages telling me to “enjoy the experience” and “enjoy your book”.

Reader, I wept. Marketing departments, here’s a top tip: if your customer is reduced to actual, hot, stinging tears, you may wish to fine-tune your messaging.

5 Plans to Head Off the Apophis Killer Asteroid

Friday the 13th of April 2029 could be a very unlucky day for planet Earth. At 4:36 am Greenwich Mean Time, a 25-million-ton, 820-ft.-wide asteroid called 99942 Apophis will slice across the orbit of the moon and barrel toward Earth at more than 28,000 mph. The huge pockmarked rock, two-thirds the size of Devils Tower in Wyoming, will pack the energy of 65,000 Hiroshima bombs–enough to wipe out a small country or kick up an 800-ft. tsunami.

On this day, however, Apophis is not expected to live up to its namesake, the ancient Egyptian god of darkness and destruction. Scientists are 99.7 percent certain it will pass at a distance of 18,800 to 20,800 miles… Scientists calculate that if Apophis passes at a distance of exactly 18,893 miles, it will go through a “gravitational keyhole.” This small region in space–only about a half mile wide, or twice the diameter of the asteroid itself–is where Earth’s gravity would perturb Apophis in just the wrong way, causing it to enter an orbit seven-sixths as long as Earth’s. In other words, the planet will be squarely in the crosshairs for a potentially catastrophic asteroid impact precisely seven years later, on April 13, 2036.

It turns out that with current technology we might be able to move the asteroid prior to the (potential) 2029 entry into the gravitational keyhole, but if it did so we would be unlikely to perturb the orbit sufficiently after that point to avoid a civilisation-ended impact. So it’s the question of how many resources to spend on a low-probability but enormously catastrophic event.

Sunday Spam: toast and vegemite

This week, I feel the need to emphasise that linking does not imply uncritical endorsement!

Philip Roth and Wikipedia

There’s only one problem with this: Roth’s open letter is at best the (justifiably) aggrieved and confused ramblings of a man ignorantly discussing what he does not understand or remember, and at worst a deliberately malicious act inspired by nothing more than a misguided desire to flip us the Vs and maybe get paid by the New Yorker on the way.

In Response to Amanda Palmer

Is it noble to volunteer for a cash-rich for-profit enterprise? And what about when taking the gig means that you’re taking food from the mouths of people whose day job it is to play these kinds of high-pressure, high-profile concerts and ensure that the audience won’t be let down?

Is it noble to devalue the role of musicians by suggesting that their years of training and their tens of thousands of hours of practice is worth little more than a beer and a high-five?

Headspace withdraws support for RU OK? Day

In a statement released this afternoon, the organisation said it was uncomfortable about the support RU OK? Day was receiving from Gloria Jean’s because of the coffee chain’s $30,000 donation to the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL).

Girls gone Wilder

Rose Wilder Lane’s life story is arguably way more interesting than that of her mother, Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Owen Jones: William Hague is wrong… we must own up to our brutal colonial past

As India became increasingly crucial to British prosperity, millions of Indians died completely unnecessary deaths. Over a decade ago, Mike Davis wrote a seminal book entitled Late Victorian Holocausts: the title is far from hyperbole. As a result of laissez-faire economic policies ruthlessly enforced by Britain, between 12 and 29 million Indians died of starvation needlessly. Millions of tons of wheat were exported to Britain even as famine raged. When relief camps were set up, the inhabitants were barely fed and nearly all died.

Philosophy gender war erupts after call for larger role for women

It began with a private email last month from one established male philosopher to four others: Proceed with a Berlin-based conference that features 14 male speakers and no women, the writer said, and I will essentially launch a campaign to take you down professionally.

How Google Builds Its Maps—and What It Means for the Future of Everything

Or as my friend and sci-fi novelist Robin Sloan put it to me, “I maintain that this is Google’s core asset. In 50 years, Google will be the self-driving car company (powered by this deep map of the world) and, oh, P.S. they still have a search engine somewhere.”

Legal myths about the Assange extradition

Whenever the Julian Assange extradition comes up in the news, many of his supporters make various confident assertions about legal aspects of the case.

Some Assange supporters will maintain these contentions regardless of the law and the evidence – they are like “zombie facts” which stagger on even when shot down; but for anyone genuinely interested in getting at the truth, this quick post sets out five common misconceptions and some links to the relevant commentary and material.

The Joke’s on You

[Jon] Stewart and [Stephen] Colbert, in particular, have assumed the role of secular saints whose nightly shtick restores sanity to a world gone mad.

But their sanctification is not evidence of a world gone mad so much as an audience gone to lard morally, ignorant of the comic impulse’s more radical virtues. Over the past decade, political humor has proliferated not as a daring form of social commentary, but a reliable profit source. Our high-tech jesters serve as smirking adjuncts to the dysfunctional institutions of modern media and politics, from which all their routines derive. Their net effect is almost entirely therapeutic: they congratulate viewers for their fine habits of thought and feeling while remaining careful never to question the corrupt precepts of the status quo too vigorously.

Pawns in the War on Drugs

Informants are the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. By some estimates, up to eighty per cent of all drug cases in America involve them, often in active roles like Hoffman’s. For police departments facing budget woes, untrained C.I.s provide an inexpensive way to outsource the work of undercover officers. “The system makes it cheap and easy to use informants, as opposed to other, less risky but more cumbersome approaches,” says Alexandra Natapoff, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a leading expert on informants. “There are fewer procedures in place and fewer institutional checks on their use.” Often, deploying informants involves no paperwork and no institutional oversight, let alone lawyers, judges, or public scrutiny; their use is necessarily shrouded in secrecy.

Gyms and personal training

So I have a dilemma with exercise that I suspect a lot of people share: I’d ultimately like to have access to the facilities that many gyms offer, both the weights and the exercise classes, but the whole surrounding consumer setup is completely offputting to me.

First of course is the price structure, where they take money whether or not I use the gym. Smooth, gyms, smooth. (Yes, I am aware that they make more money — I assume far more, given how bad it is for customer perceptions of their industry — that way. But I am not interested in gyms’ profitability, in capitalism I highly value my right to be an utterly selfish consumer in that respect.) So, yeah. Is my (realistically) once-a-week-with-occasional-skips use of a gym worth $30 a week to me? No.

Assuming I got past that, here’s what needs to happen, for example, for me to join Ian Thorpe Aquatic Centre’s gym, which is most likely because I’d like access to their pool rather than paying for a gym and a pool. First, I need to go there with my husband, because it would be a joint membership. OK, there go about ninety-five percent of my trips there. Secondly, my husband must either not be in a hurry to get back to work, or we must not have our bored toddler fussing at us. So, that’s the remaining five percent of trips. Then, once I did sign up, there’s compulsory personal training sessions focusing on my fitness goals. I can’t think of anything I find less inspiring, than to discuss my fitness goal “I enjoy moving my body sometimes” with people who are trained to equate fitness goals with either “I want to achieve top percentile cardiovascular or strength performance” or “I want to lose a fair chunk of weight”. I rather suspect this mismatch is deliberate too, because there’s no better customer than one who has been persuaded that they really need to keep this gym membership… for the far-away day that the sense of being too inferior a body to use the gym goes away.

Sunday spam: French toast with bacon

The Myth of Looming Female Dominance

[One] should always be wary of raw numbers in the news. In fact, when you look at the trend as published by the Census Bureau, you see that the proportion of married couple families in which the father meets the stay-at-home criteria has doubled: from 0.4% in 2000 to 0.8% today. The larger estimate which includes fathers working part-time comes out to 2.8% of married couple families with children under 15. The father who used the phrase “the new normal” in [the NYT story] was presumably not speaking statistically.

Miley Cyrus haircut shocker: Short hair isn’t a cry for help

So just to remind you: A young woman changing her look in a way that doesn’t scream, “Please, world, love me because I am a Victoria’s Secret model,” right now, in the year of our Lord 2012, freaks people out. It actually makes them wonder if she’s lost her mind.

Scientists Claim To ‘Block’ Heroin, Morphine Addiction: One Skeptic’s Reaction

THe “one skeptic’s reaction” is actually along the lines of “this is very interesting research, that appears to have not much application to blocking existing addiction, but might to making opiates more effective for pain while being less addictive.”

Tribalism and locavorism

Why does the idea of “food miles” bug (some) freemarketeers while (some) environmentalists resist evidence that it’s not environmental friendly? This appears to be against both their stated ideological positions.

Why Aren’t Female Ski Jumpers Allowed in the Olympics?

Dating to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) says the women’s exclusion isn’t discrimination. President Jacques Rogge has insisted that the decision “was made strictly on a technical basis, and absolutely not on gender grounds.” But female would-be Olympic competitors say they don’t understand what that “technical basis” is. Their abilities? They point to American Lindsey Van, who holds the world record for the single longest jump by anyone, male or female.

The foibles of flexibility

Since the average age of those studying for a PhD is 37 most of you will have some kind of family commitment, and yes – pets count. I find it mystifying that so many of the ‘how to get a PhD’ books offer precious little advice on how to cope.

Am I Black Enough For You?

I watched this case unfold with particular interest. Why? Because I am married to an Aboriginal man and I have an Aboriginal daughter (they are of the Ngarigo people and the Gunditjmara people). And my daughter has fair skin, dark blond/light brown hair and very blue eyes. She is one of these “white Aboriginals” that Andrew Bolt decries.

We’re not here for your inspiration

And there’s another one of a little boy running on those same model legs with the caption, “Your excuse is invalid”. Yes, you can take a moment here to ponder the use of the word “invalid” in a disability context. Ahem.

Then there’s the one with the little girl with no hands drawing a picture holding the pencil in her mouth with the caption, “Before you quit. Try.”

I’d go on, but I might expunge the contents of my stomach.

Let me be clear about the intent of this inspiration porn; it’s there so that non-disabled people can put their worries into perspective. So they can go, “Oh well if that kid who doesn’t have any legs can smile while he’s having an awesome time, I should never, EVER feel bad about my life”. It’s there so that non-disabled people can look at us and think “well, it could be worse… I could be that person”.