01 December, 2009

The Non-Secular Infection and A Spectacular Implosion

I’m very, very cranky as I write this.

It’s great to live in a secular liberal socialist democracy.  One gets to vote, the media is freely available, health care is provided by the state and if one wishes one can supplement it with health insurance by not-for-profit insurers that have policies that are simple to understand.  Yes life is grand: almost a state of utopia.

Did I say utopia?  I meant semi-dysfunctional like all democracies.

Yes, I do enjoy all the benefits of a secular liberal socialist democracy, but there is so much crap to put up with.  For example, the secular bit: I have no problems with people wanting to believe in supernatural beings or forces that has not one iota of evidence to back it up.  But I do get peeved when politicians have a sudden bout of conscience or morality and convert to a religion.  Why?  Because suddenly they want to impose their “truth” and values as a universal truth on everyone else.  For example, my Prime Minister is a “moral Christian” and has instructed his Attorney General to investigate whether the Australian Capital Territories laws on recognition of marriage of same-sex couples conflicts with his idea of marriage, i.e., no gays allowed.  It's not that he hates queers, good gracious no, the Honourable Kevin Rudd MP doesn't like the idea of queers being legally married.  Which is amusing because he has no objection to having same sex couples declared as de facto married couples for the purpose of taxation and social security, knowing full well that when it comes to these decisions gay couples are proportionally taxed at a higher rate when working, and receive proportionally less benefits when not.

It's a win-win situation for governments.  Rudd and the Australian Labor Party might as well say “Well, fuck you.  You chose your life, whereas straight couple didn't have a choice and they have children to raise so they need the middle class welfare.”  This ignores the fact gay couples can have children if they wish.  In Western Australia, men who are recognised as a gay couple are equally entitled to adopt children as straight couples, for example.  And of course there are many gay parents who bring their children from a former heterosexual marriage into their gay union.

It gets worse: religions are tax exempt for no other reason than tradition.  The Church of Scientology was mentioned in the Senate as being a non-religion that should be investigated, or lose it’s tax free status.  Fine.  The Senate can do that.  But why stop at The Church of Scientology?  Why should any religion be tax exempt based purely on an outmoded ideology?  Fine, if a religion provides a service to the community and the net gain is $0.00, no tax should be paid, just like any other charity or not-for-profit organisation.  However charities and not-for-profits have to prove they didn't make a profit to the Australian Tax Office, whereas religions don't.  That doesn't seem fair.  It costs money to comply with ATO rulings on even the simplest things with charities and not-for-profits, so that when Australians donate tens of millions of dollars to special appeals like the Boxing Day Tsunami Appeal of 2004, they don't understand that for every dollar they give, approximately 30 cents disappears into the black hole of wages and tax compliance, even though no tax is paid, and the donors can claim their donations above $2 against their income.  Religions don't have this "black hole” problem and as a result any money they claim as costs is in fact profit going towards building their religion.  Is that really fair?

Even if, as the Catholic Church claims, they provide services to the community that governments can't or won't, there still is a problem.  Take for example age care.  Your mum's getting a bit dotty and it’s time for a home.  So you pay a church a considerable sum of money so she can live in a villa, ahem, flat and receive the basics.  The problem we don't see is that you sell your mum's house to buy a lease on that tiny “villa”.  When she dies, the age care home resells the lease.  They may argue that this will provide care for their patients.  What they are less willing to admit is that they receive government funding for each patient to provide that care.  So what happens to the money they make on selling a lease?  We may never know as religions aren't required to open their books to anyone.  For all I know, the profits could be diverted to upgrading a cathedral.  Religions, particularly the Catholic Church, have a habit of complaining about being asset rich but cash poor.

Then there is education.  Education is a tax free environment.  Almost.  Books, for example aren't always tax exempt.  But what perplexes me is how much money the Commonwealth Government subsides even the richest private schools that are run by religions.  Subsidies that state government schools would love to have.  You see, government schools are supposed to provide free education, but they can’t: there are fees for all sorts of items from extra curricular actives to buying essential items for all students.  At a private school parents expect to pay fees, after all, it's a private school.  Some prestigious schools have long waiting lists and parents pay a non-refundable deposit almost as soon as the sex of the unborn is known, in the hope that they can have their child the best possible chance in life.  After all, why would one accept a “second-rate” education for their child when a “first class” education is available.  Again, why should private schools, which are run by religions, be tax exempt simply because they are religious in nature?  And worse, why should money be diverted away from government schools to private schools to make these exclusive schools more affordable?

These religious schools don't have to follow a state, let alone a national, curricula, which means any fundamentalist religion can require that students learn religious education before numeracy and literacy!  As an example, an Islamist College in Perth for girls was investigated for embezzlement.  Fine, but the court ruled that both the Western Australian and Australian Governments’ own rules didn’t prohibit money both governments gave in subsidy, as well as the fees of the students, from being diverted to a third party in another country.  It's a similar situation with Christian Colleges: part of the fees and government subsidies leave the educational environment and are handed over to their respective churches.  An internal tax, or profiteering?  You decide.

In related news: today the Liberal Party (which is actually a conservative party — yes, it is confusing when people immigrate here and have to vote) imploded.  There is so much commentary on this, an unbelievable amount. For a time #spill was the leading hashtag on Twitter.  We Aussies were riveted to the core with how the Libs could manage to simultaneously shoot themselves in the foot as well as shove said foot firmly into their collective mouth.  Entertainment plus, much hilarity.

But on a more serious note, even though the Libs are not in government, it does have big repercussions.  As it stands, the Senate is in impasse.  The bill commonly called the ETS, the Labour government's Emission Trading Scheme with which to go to Copenhagen, looks certain to be defeated twice by the Senate.  This means the government shall have the right to send a writ to the Governor General for a double dissolution.  That is an early election of both the House of Representatives and all of the Senate.  The normal election cycle is for elections for the House of Representatives and an election of Half-Senate.

The idea of a double dissolution is to break the dead-lock.  At present, with the worst of all possible candidates becoming the Liberal Leader and hence the Leader of the Opposition, things are looking bad for the Libs.

The real problem is that an ineffective opposition cannot properly hold government to account.  A party, any party, that has both government and the majority in the Senate can use it for it’s own cynical purposes and ram bills, bad bills, through in very quick time and list them for gazettal before the next election cycle.  I'll point out here that I'm neither a Liberal or Labor voter, but am a realist and know that the Liberals (in coalition with the Nationals) or Labor are the only viable government alternatives for the foreseeable future.

And this is the related bit. All the major players are fundamentalist Christians.  Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister, is Protestant, Tony Abbott, leader of the Opposition, is a Capital C Catholic and major player in the cross benches of the Senate, Senator Stephen Fielding, is a “happy clappy” conservative Pentecostalist and Climate-Change Denialist.

Our highest parliament, the most important and powerful of our parliaments, is now infected with fundamentalist Christians.  And all have adopted an anti-GLBT stance.  None want to allow same-sex marriage.  None wish to see gays, lesbians, bisexuals or transgender people have equal rights under law as “straight” people, or the same human rights as “straight” people.  I say “straight” people because no one is truly heterosexual. (Read Kinsey's work, and peer reviewed academic papers on sexuality: discuss.)

It's not just me that will be affected. All minority groups will suffer.  The real irony is that Australians have a long held common majority view that politics and religion do not mix.  If you go into a pub, don't talk politics or religion if you wish to walk out again with ego and/or body intact.

And yet we get these fuckwits thinking they have “moral authority” to impose their wishes on all of us.

Yes, I am very, very, very cranky as I write this.

Update: 2 December 2009.  The ETS Bill was blocked by the Senate for a second time.  The gun is loaded, will the government pull the double dissolution trigger?  The situation is too fluid to blog here.

20 November, 2009

A shameless plug for Dr. Karl

This really is a passion of mine: If Dr. Karl didn't have a loving wife and kids, I'd ask him to marry me.  It, however, isn't going to happen.

The next best thing, as a lover of all things science, and as an atheist, is to shamelessly plug the good Doctor's latest endeavours: another book and a first for Karl, a real punk song mixing science and his vocals.

Visit his website http://drkarl.com/
In the meantime, enjoy this:

(I must confess I enjoy the line about the so-called Shroud of Turin.)

Speaking of science…

I’m one of many hundreds of thousands of people that suffer from poly rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis, so I don’t ask for pity.  Just a little understanding will do.

Recently my liver has been more of a bitch than normal.  It’s has bee some years since I “passed” a LFT (liver function test), but it has become much worse.  Meaning from time to time I’m crooker than a mongrel dog, despite doing all the right things, like eating well, exercising and not drinking alcohol (a lapse of a glass of red or a beer twice a year isn’t going to be a problem, yet.)

So If I’m moody, or not up to my usual levels of levity, I blame my liver and my arthritis and what the disease and treatment is doing to my liver.  Thus, if I give you shit on Twitter, or you don’t receive any sympathy from me because your back hurts, forgive me in advance: it’s not that I don’t care, it’s that I don’t care at that particular moment as my back is more probably by far more insufferable than your slight twinge because you happened to be out partying hard the night before.

Nothing more shall be said of the subject.  Normal transmission shall resume.

18 November, 2009

The New Gutenberg Press

There is no other way to say this, so I’ll just go right ahead and indulge myself.
We are well into the age of the New Gutenberg Press.  I was around when there was an internet, at university in fact, at a time when the internet was only text.  Unix was the OS and C was the language.  Computer Science was still a “fringe” subject at the Sandstone University I was enrolled at: or at least those who did Computer Science were the nerdiest of the nerds and the geekiest of the geeks.  Real students studied maths, physics, chemistry, arts, law.  Which is amusing because that’s exactly what computer science encompasses now, more than two decades later.
While I was there, I witnessed the birth of the World Wide Web.  No longer were we restricted to text, or packets of data that couldn’t be viewed in situ.  And being the nerdiest geeks we could not imagine the political ramifications this subtle change with the use of the web would allow.
A tad over 20 years later, and we are now seeing governments trying, and failing, to control both the web and the net on which it resides.  Governments don’t like this: they are used to being in control.  They like us to have “free speech” but on their terms.  The Criminal Code Act Compilation Act 1913 (Western Australia) still has sedition as a crime, that is in broad terms to criticise the Sovereign (Chapter VII section 44)  (The Commonwealth of Australia has a similar offence listed.)  I particularly find offence in Chap VII s44(e) “To promote feelings of ill-will between different classes of Her Majesty’s subjects… is a seditious intention…”  To begin with I don’t believe in her god, that her god exists, and therefore she has some divine right to enslave me as a “subject”.  Secondly this law is more about protecting the position of the Government.  Further, what is this “different classes” notion?  I want the society to which I belong to be classless, even though I understand that in practice this hasn’t happened: to whit the plight of indigenous Australians, and the incredible stupidity of the WA Police to charge an Aboriginal child with receiving stolen goods.  A chocolate worth AUD$0.70. No non-Aboriginal child would have ever been charged with such a serious offence for a trivial item.  Even the owners of the 70 cents of chocolate didn’t want to press charges.  Finally after the outrage of sensible citizens and journalists overwhelmed the “bring back the stockade and flog them” shock jocks’ points-of-view so that the Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan withdrew the charges.
Now let’s make this point perfectly clear.  This child has never been convicted of any crime during his 12 year life.  More than that, various legislation means that imprisonment either before a trial, during or after a hearing is a matter of last resort, and in particularly with children imprisonment is the very last resort and then only after a conviction due to a serious crime.  Yet this child was locked in a prison cell for a few hours while the charges were being typed up.
Some may think “that will teach him a lesson”, but a lesson in what?  That being Aboriginal mean he has less rights before the law than anyone else?
So what this seemingly minor incident have to with the web?  Everything.  It is true connectivity and immediacy and intimacy.  That someone like myself can tell part of the story, that someone can google it or subscribe, that they can find out more because no matter how much any government tries, they cannot control the content I aggregate and publish, nor the thoughts I write down, nor who reads it.  I am part of a mass of millions of digital Martin Lutherers, nailing my list of aggrievences to the Church’s door, and by mysterious mechanism it becomes available to be viewed over and over again, cheaply, and in a way that is impossible to control. I know how this much idea irritates Rupert Murdoch and News Corp. and I don’t care.
Well, perhaps not.  If governments so wished, they could burn every single New Gutenberg Press they find.  Except now governments themselves have a problem: how to cheaply and reliably disseminate public information.  Perhaps governments could licence every New Gutenberg Press: an army of inspectors would check every piece of information that it publishes.  Don’t discount this: governments have a habit of creating absurd laws to deal with absurd situations they themselves have created.
I was lucky to be there at the birth of this silent revolution, and thus in a fairly élite group of people that have seen the rise of the digital culture and of social media.  By no means am I an expert, however by knowing how life really was before, during and after this new social order, I know I can survive if somehow the plug is pulled.  Which is more comforting than you may think.

26 October, 2009

Well I’ll be buggered!

It’s been a bit of a drought for me lately.  Maybe that’s a tad of an understatement.  Then…
Let’s not call it a flood.  But the drought has broken.  And I have my iPhone and a particular app that Jimbo doesn’t appreciate- yet. Or at least in company.

And fair enough too.  It’s rude to be checking out who might be interested (usually not) a few miles away (alas, it measures distances by miles and feet), and with a few stats.  Like age, height, weight in lbs (whatever that is) and a nice pic.  Usually of the torso and occasionally various states of arousal of their equipment.  If one is really lucky, a picture will be of a head.  Nearly all are reversed as the user holds up their iPhone to a mirror.  Almost a kind of narcissism; tanned, super-buff torsos are the most common pic.

Anyway, the point is that Jimbo is right; if your with your mates, put your bloody thing away and furtively glance at the hotties that happen to be within eyesight, and practice your conversational skills.  Of course, as any tweeter knows, there are the right times and places for the box’o’magic to be whipped out so one can add to the feed.  It’s the new social etiquette.  Just make sure you know that everyone there knows it’s a tweet and you aren’t ignoring them.  Common sense, people!

Now that being said, and with this last weekend being an example of what hell would be like if it existed, I divided my time appropriately with my hosts — of whom it must be said were very, very kind — and with myself.  Since I didn’t think I had a snowball’s chance in a Pilbara Iron Ore mine, of either leaving, bumping into some fantabulous guy completely by random and being asked back for “some refreshment”, I thought I could occupy some time by fantasising about — let’s be honest — many of the guys on Jimbo’s least fav app.

However, the best plans of mice and men…  A “hi” here and a “g’day” there suddenly became promising.  Usually at the best of times I’m ignored.  But not this time, just to make life even more difficult as I had to be honest about the fact that I don’t have a place to accommodate any guest, let alone one that has a similar objective to me.

Fate, if she exists — and she would be a she — was mocking me. One chat became two.  Two became three.  Bloody hell, suddenly I AM DESIRABLE!  To make matters worse, it became time to return to my “normal” temporary home and still the offers came flooding in.  A case of it never rains but it pours.

Now, just to add further problems to my sudden desirability — and no I didn’t doctor my pic or lie about my height and so on, it’s all real except I don’t give out my name in the app — I don’t have a car; I prefer public transport despite a car being really convenient.  There was no way I was going to ask my house mate to borrow his as the situation is tense enough as it is.

So there I am — chatting to four guys.  All of them wanting the best bits of me.  Somehow I managed to tick P box off the list, late last night in fact.  So only three to go.  And I can’t wait. O is next on the list, and seems to be a very understanding, wonderful guy.  S is from interstate on a holiday and is awesome; I really don’t understand what he sees in me.  Finally is C.  Not as easy as it appears as C, although the most enthusiastic of all, is just starting out; experimenting I suppose at a later stage than most.

My “mantra” these days mainly is to make sure I don’t set myself up for a fall.  If it all falls flat on its arse that’s fine.  These things happen and all that.  Yet I must talk a bit about P.

P wasn’t sure, even though quite close by.  That’s understandable as chatting via text doesn’t give all the picture of a person.  And I didn’t mind if nothing happened; I was annoyed by the excuses though.  Not the “my mum’s coming home any minute now” kind of rubbish.  It was more the lack of pride or self esteem “I’m not good enough for you. You won’t like me if you see me” kind of excuses.  They are forgivable and human.  However I wasn’t going to let that bother me; P wasn’t going to be a conquest or there for pity sex.  Not at all.  My mindset is firm; I won’t do anything the other party doesn’t want.  No means no.

So I am glad that P gave me the green light.  It was wonderful.  He was wonderful.  My drought has been broken and P has given me so much self confidence; I may be broken but for real people that doesn’t matter.  Those that put down a little bio that they are this, that and the other, 6 foot 9 and 115 pounds with gym fit and very muscular body wanting same be warned: that is so transparent that it would be little wonder if others ignored you because being the Adonises you all are, you are unobtainable, or because you’re full of shit.  Alternatively someone may engage with you, chatting along and feeding you lies, leading you on.  That would be fun; I don’t seem to have the time.  At least P is a real person and wasn’t like 2 minute noodles.

Wish me luck with O, S and C!

23 October, 2009

I love a good parade.

I've been wooting it up lately.  By wooting it up I mean going into Northbridge and watching people having a good time.  Or joining up with some of the Perth Twitter élite; eating, drinking and being a-tweeting.  Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may diet and all that stuff. #TapasPTUB at Harry’s Bar was a success, as was #ItsAllAboutThePieTUB (thanks @MrsMacs, @dragonflyspark & @freocookster for the #TexMex pies - scrumptious!) It’s fun having a lemon, lime & bitters while watching people get drunk.  Honestly.

Coming attractions - non-Twitter related - is the Pride “Homecoming” Parade; Perth’s biggest social event.  No, really.  More people watch the parade than the Christmas Pageant (take that, you breeders!)  Bigger than any equivalent Festival in the world, bar the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras.  So if you’re near Perth (a relative term), come and see the real thing come and see.  Saturday 31 October 2009.  20 years of solidarity for one night of freedom and one helluva party afterwards. Good luck getting tickets to the Party, Ladies and Gents and Inbetweeners.  But for everyone else, make sure you get in early along the route (that’s pronounced “root” here in Australia, for my American and Canadian friends) along William Street and James Street in Northbridge.

I myself will be attending a pre-march drinks party (Champers and GnT, or rather LLBs for me) before wandering across to watch the wonder that is the Dykes on Bikes and the Perth Marching Boys doing their stuff.

In other news: spring has sprung.  We had a corker of a few days maxing out near 40°C (104°F for those that are Metric challenged).  The natives are in full bloom and there is a danger that manufacturers of tissue paper will make huge profits as they drive the price of their prissy boxes up to cater for the sudden load of hay fever and the subsequent flying snot.  Not being a hay fever person, it amuses me to see such a preponderance of proboscises snorting and sneezing their way through the day, it makes me glad of three things.  That I don’t have hay fever, I’m immunised against Influenza A Pandemic H1N1, and it won’t be long before the long, hot days and insanely hot nights are here.  Well, hopefully none of the latter as the Freo Doctor should sort that out.  And with that means by day the beach, and by night the beer garden of some pub - with a tasty lemon, lime and bitters - watching my mates turn into a drunken mess.  Oh the fun times of being a tee-totaler.

Speaking of fun times, I thoroughly recommend couch-surfing.  Honestly.  It means I get to pay for not being homeless for the time being.  But don’t worry, as soon as I find a suitable home, I’ll be grabbing it with both hands and making it mine.  That could be some time as the Western Australian economy is popping champagne corks again and speculators run amok in the stock exchange buying up anything that can be dug up, pumped, sucked, compressed or distilled and sent in ships bigger than an intact “Exxon Valdez” to China.  It’s good in a way; the Aussie Dollar is at record highs, almost at parity with the US dollar, and making every Aussie’s dream of a cheap flight to Bali a reality.  The bad news is that anything that is exported, due the the crap value of the US Dollar, doesn’t make the books look that amazing.  What arse-head decided that contracts for exports should be decided in US Dollars?  Why should we negotiate in a nation’s currency when that nation has become a byword for sub-prime?  Maybe we should do what the Chinese government has been doing for ages - devalue the currency, but in our favour!  What a fiendishly fabulous plan.  We would have to put off the next plan to fly to Bali to buy cheap, pirated DVDs.  However in these uncertain economic times we need to tighten our belts *cough-bullshit*.  Sorry, hay fever.

The good news is my footy membership renewal pack arrived yesterday.  The really, really good news is that I have a chance to win a holiday in Mauritius before it disappears under the globally warmed Indian Ocean.  Global warming caused mainly from all that stuff that’s been dug up, pumped, sucked, compressed or distilled being converted into  trillions of tonnes of carbon dioxide gas.  Still it’s good to know that I have a chance to visit the place, speak some creole of French and English, and leave with a few good memories and photos so that I can tell the children of the “whatever” generation I have proof the place existed.  On second thoughts, that’s just wrong.  The “whatever” generation have become so lazy “whatever” is now simply a “meh”, if one is lucky to get anything at all.

20 October, 2009

As the sun sets on the Empire, the Empire wants to strike back.

After yesterday, (Monday, Australian time), the Battle-lines were drawn up between Murdoch (NewsLtd/NewsCorp, News.com.au) and Taxpayer funded independent Public Broadcasters (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the British Broadcasting Corporation).
(Watch/read “End of the Free Ride.)

MediaWatch recently celebrated its 20th birthday - the report that reporters dread for it is without fear or favour, and never afraid to bite the hand that feeds it (the ABC).  Always controversial, insightful and with humour when required, reporting on the industry of (Australian) journalism.
One highlight of the 20 years of MediaWatch was a political episode of what became known as the  “Cash for Comments” scandal; radio jocks being paid by big corporations to comment favourably about them or their industries, without telling their listeners about any comment being an advertorial.  Strident critics had become fervent admirers.
The political and industrial fallout was nuclear: without MediaWatch, I doubt anyone would know the murky, grimy, greasy-palmed world in which journalism operates, and why nations like the United Kingdom and Australia need a publicly funded independent news source that is globally respected for its impartiality.
Murdoch may want the BBC and ABC to stick to radio and television, but in this brave new world of free news content, it’s important that the BBC and ABC at least match what NewsLtd/NewsCorp can do online, and provide it for free.  After all, in Australia the ABC’s tagline has been for 2 decades “It’s YOUR ABC.”

14 October, 2009

I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley!

Surely you can't be serious…
The Australian Labor Party in Western Australia is becoming both a joke and on the nose.  It lost the unlosable election; a young, charismatic Premier at the height of his powers in the middle of a mining and industrial boom, with hand-picked high profile local celebrities verses a tired old conservative deposed leader with a team of conservative players that really didn't like their “captain” much.
Worse, the conservatives had a proven formula of losing elections; Colin Barnett had demonstrated this before.

But Carpenter, or “Carps” as the local rag like to call him, made two horrendous mistakes.  Firstly he allowed his “team” to talk to disgraced former Premier and criminal Brian Burke, and then after fixing that blunder called an early election.
If there is one thing people hate more than compulsory voting, it’s having to endure an election campaign before the government’s term is due.  And Labor lost, after a coalition of independents, Nationals and the Liberals formed.
But one could be forgiven if Labor learned any lessons.  For example, prior to the election, Labor wanted to reform shopping hours.  Instead of businesses being forced to close their doors at 5pm in most cases, Labor was committed to deregulation of shopping hours.
That was in the good ol’ days before the glitch in credit costs to banks.
Now in opposition, Labor have made themselves as popular as roast pork in a synagog by using the childish argument ‘you didn’t help us push reform through, so we’ll block yours ,nah, nah, nah, nah’ and using silly words like ‘mandate’ and ‘community standards.’  Um, Labor, you lost the election, and you say you have a mandate?
Even when the Premier offers a compromise, the leader of the opposition — and of Labor — the silly old school teacher Eric Ripper comes back with a haggling nightmare of “well, you can extend trading hours by one more hour, if you agree to our terms.”
Eric Ripper, excitement machine, dynamic powerhouse, completely un-gormless non-twit.

Now I don’t want to end on a sour note, so I admit I’m not a Hawthorn fan.  However, Jordan Lewis could make me turn — if only he kicked for the other “team!"

08 October, 2009

Science and scientists aren’t trusted anymore

Science and scientists aren’t trusted much anymore. Nor are doctors or most professions which have to deal with science — except technology.  I'll get back to that.
I don't blame those that think what their GP says is a load of crap.  Or that a public think that a bunch of be-goggled, white lab coated boffins have to say on this, that or the other.  Or they'd rather get there informed opinion from a naturopath, psychic, astrologer or fraudster.  I don't blame them one little bit.
How did this yawning schismatic chasm of trust come about?
In a time before mine, whatever a man in a white coat said was true.  How could it be not, he’s wearing a white coat.

A Nazi Officer, Adolf Eichmann, said in his defence that he simply took orders.  “Why me?  Why not the local policemen, thousands of them?  They would have been shot if they refused…”
This prompted Stanley Milgram’s (in)famous 1961-1962 experiments, and 1963 paper “Behaviorial study of obedience.”  (Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Vol. 67.)  Simply put, a very high percentage of people will do as they are told, despite seeing the results of what they are doing, when told by a person in authority.
Prior to this revelation, our societies believed in science.  Science had won the war, and now chemists were making stuff that killed bugs more efficiently and helped crops grow in impoverished soils.  More importantly in the US and Western Europe, science was in a struggle to win the Cold War.

By the time 1970s came along. Environmental Science was becoming respectable, and not some crazy hotchpotch of ideas.  Various chemicals that companies said were safe were, in fact, toxic — if not carcinogenic — to humans.  Names like organochlorines and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) were the catchwords of unexplained tumours, animal deformities and deaths, and all-round general nastiness.
Big companies that were trusted brand names were now the enemy.
I don’t blame anyone for being even a little hysterical after finding out a chemical company knew that something it produced caused cancers or, worse, deaths.
What a bunch of irresponsible scientists!
Medical science seemed to be no different.  General Practitioners treated patients with indifference.  Often whatever was wrong with little Johnny was put down to a virus.  It didn’t matter what virus.  But these new-fangled antibiotics will help (which for viruses, of course, they don’t).
And like the subjects of Miligram’s experiments — doctors wore white lab coats after all — people were content with whatever diagnosis the doctor gave, and the prescription.  Besides, doctors were good people; they wanted to help humanity.
Yet as medical science progressed, General Practitioners didn’t, or wouldn’t. Residents were too busy and Consultants too set in their ways, or too busy teaching.  This didn’t apply to every practicing doctor, of course, but you get the idea.
By the mid 1960s, the younger generations were watching or reading about their Rock & Roll heros visiting mystics, gurus or other eastern teachers.  It seemed logical that western medicine was failing, while eastern medicine seemed to be more natural and had a history of thousands of years.
More “westerners” started putting their trust in eastern or alternative practices (even if some of these practices could be debunked very easily, or were nothing more than scams by unethical, greedy persons).  It just seemed more logical that if traditional Western Medicine couldn’t cure cancer, then anything that claimed to be natural and claimed cured cancer, then we’ve been fed lies by these people in the white coats and should do what the naturopath or homeopathist or herbalist or chiropractor says.  After all, it’s natural, right?  And natural must be better than something synthesised in a lab by someone in a white coat.
Well, no.
Whether it’s about a chemical that kills flies, or a pharmaceutical drug that stops epileptic seizures, it all comes from the same foundation of science; it’s not about proving something, it’s about trying to disprove it by controlled, precise experimentation. Any experiment must be repeatable — like a recipe — by other experimenters. Results must be tested and tested, and tested from all angles.  Other scientists must be free to debate it.
We lay peoples may not understand the jargon or the terminology.  But do we understand the jargon used by alternative medicine practitioners?
We don’t have to know how an iPod works in order to use it.  Or how solar cells and Albert Einstein are related.  We don’t need to know how the internet works to use it.  Or how Google searches the web, and so on.

Yet there isn’t a mass counter-culture against technologists.  Those goofy boffins that come up with really cute robots, or a better way to navigate in the car.  Even just a better way to communicate full stop.  The only difference between a medical researcher and a research engineer is the cuteness factor.  Research engineers don’t hurt anybody, they’re trying to make life more sustainable for humankind.
Well, not really.
Technology is neutral — until it’s utilised.  We all want ‘good’ technology but not ‘bad’ technology.  But the same technology that lets you navigate using your mobile phone (or cell phone) is the same technology that was designed for warfare.  The technology that has you gasping in awe at the brightly lit skies from fireworks is the same technology of ancient warfare; refined it’s the technology of today’s weapons designed to kill.  The technology that lets you cram thousands of songs onto your MP3 device is the same technology that governments and militaries around the world use to send secret messages; usually not pleasant ones.
So does that mean we should throw out our iPods, mobile phones, TVs, computers and stop this technical nightmare we are in?  No.  Just because a safety pin was invented by the same person that invented the semi-automatic rifle doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have babies; that’s absurd.
Today more chemicals are tested more rigorously than ever.  Over longer time-spans, and the ecological effects are a priority rather than a side-effect.
Medical researches have better understandings and better tools than ever before.  They aren’t blindly searching using the hit-or-miss techniques of the 1800s.  No, they are like a good detective following a lead.
General Practitioners, Residents, Specialists even Consultants wear more relaxed clothing.  They are better at communicating, better at diagnosing, and are constantly updating their skills as more understanding of a problem comes to hand.
As the last of the Nobel Prize functions come to a close, it’s wise to take another look at science with an open mind — after all, that’s what scientists do when they look at our world.

05 October, 2009

Jack Evan’s Funeral

I don’t like funerals.  But they have a purpose, if not sombre or morbid, to let the family know that we that are left remember them, and are there for comfort.
The funeral will be held Tuesday 13th October at Pinnaroo Valley Memorial Park.

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04 October, 2009

Vale, Jack Evans.

Sadly, a friend and mentor, Jack Evans, died in his Waneroo home on Friday, aged 80.
I will miss him.  Much Sympathy is extended to his family and friends.
You can read Andrew Bartletts’s obituary to find more about Jack and his achievements on the Australian political scene.

Swine flu and vaccination debates.

Nothing makes me more angry than deliberate ignorance.  If someone doesn't understand, it’s natural to ask questions.  Not asking questions is the road to ruin.
A group that calls itself the Australian Vaccination Network doesn’t ask questions, they don’t trust evidence based science.  The AVN should be called the Australian Anti-Vaccination Network.  The AVN mouthpiece believes her own children had whooping cough, but didn't suffer. One of her children, she claims, was cured using a homeopathic vaccination.
Excuse me?  Homeopathic vaccination?  A dose of water on a bit of sugar is vaccination?
Whether it's an unnecessary death due to pertussis (whooping cough) or an agonising death due to homeopathic treatment of eczema by parents “who should have known better,” let there be no doubt that now the Influenza A (H1N1) vaccine is available (to Australians at least) especially health workers, the young, old and vulnerable; I’m getting my 1st shot this coming Friday.
If someone of the AVN ilk has a question, then they should consult an epidemiologist, or at least a GP.  Well researched, peer reviewed articles also have a place; Vaccines and autism: a tale of shifting hypothesis.  Not some bunch of scare mongers’ or conspiracy theorists’ web pages and blogs.
As one tweeter put it, “My view: the argument, no vacs in case of side effects, is like saying no seat belt ever for fear of drowning trapped in car underwater.”  Well said, @DrMobs.

Living with the Ex. Why?

So it’s over.  Move on!  Well, sometimes it's not that easy.  Take me (please).  I'm a nice guy — no, I'm a lovely guy, yet after 3 years of happy togetherness, it all fell apart. (I can hear the “awws.”)
Problem is I have no where to go.  The rabid mining boom in Western Australia had left not only a housing shortage, but a rental market squeezed harder than a US bank.  Then, just as we thought the bubble had burst and the world was heading for economic ruin, things actually improved.  Affordable accommodation pretty well meant buying a cardboard box.  And it hasn't improved since — the boom didn't pop — it merely took a breather.
So here I am, part renting a room from my ex, part couch surfing and part house sitting.

$700 million well spent.

It's not very often politicians from all sides of the political spectrum share a small tent with standing room only and have more ribbon cutting scissors than there are spectators, but the completion of the Kwinana Freeway extension and Forrest Highway was an exception.  Now commuters from Mandurah or even Bunbury can do so on without the lights slowing them down.  Money well spent, since the commuter trains from Mandurah or Bunbury are faster and probably cheaper than driving a car.  Perhaps the $700 million could have been spent on, I don't know, housing?  Hospitals?  Schools?  Vaccinations?  Just a thought.
Mind you, the sojourn to Bunbury during the week was not only wonderful, it was a stress free time for the driver (even if she did find it too easy to speed!)

Gay, but not out (and about).

I don’t own a car.  Don’t have a real need for one.  Perth’s public transport system — despite it’s detractors — is better than any city in Australia, including Melbourne.  The trains don’t need special operators to get disabled passengers on and off at stations, and nearly all the buses are ACROD rated so again any disabled person can light and alight with ease.
With a station a 10 minute walk away (or the next at 20 minutes, and twice as many trains), there is no excuse not to use public transport.  Planing is easy on Transperth.  I can look up timetable information from my iPhone when out and about.  The real question is “why am I not getting out and about with my fellow movers and shakers?”  Well, one answer could be that when I want to go to The Court, my ex has arranged to meet a date there.  That would be awkward.  “But wait, there are other gay or gay friendly pubs, clubs and bars” protesteth you.  Yes, it’s true — gay friendly pubs are everywhere in the ’burbs.  Though I’m protesting back; I don’t mind taking public transport to where-ever someone wants to meet up, but please do me the courtesy and not assume I’ll take a taxi for your convenience.  Besides, I need to save up some money.  The rental costs for we semi-homeless is ridiculously high.

Health-care, or: why I just don’t understand.

I’ve grown up in a society of universal healthcare.  Hell, it’s more than that, it’s a system of welfare.  A safety net.  If you are part of the “working poor,” or unemployed, or disabled, or retired and pensioned, the Government – that is taxpayers — pick up the tab; for hospitalisation, for surgery and for most medications, and so on.  Nearly every reasonable Australian thinks it’s fair.  In fact, the welfare system goes beyond the low income earners.  Even middle-high income earners can receive benefits for their children.  The more children a family has, the higher the benefit for each successive child.  Until recently we even had a “baby bonus,” a once off payment for parents for each child to overcome the “greying” of society.  That is when these bubs become working citizens, their taxes are helping to pay for their parents pension.
It’s not only an Australian phenomenon; many other countries are “welfare states.” Canada, New Zealand, most European Union Nations like the United Kingdom, France, Germany.
But I don’t understand why some Americans would oppose a universal health care system.  What’s the problem?  Has the American health insurance industry (Australia’s health insurance industry is subsidised and heavily regulated) wormed its way into the ears of Congressmen and Senators and told them that such welfare and safety nets are intrinsically evil?  That the reason for the Holocaust is because Hitler wanted health reform?  That any health reform is a form of socialism and as such is incompatible with democracy?
For the record, last time I checked Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand the UK, etc., were all healthy, robust democracies.  Australia even managed to avoid the dreaded recession, and posted surpluses in the Current Account and Trade Account.  Our only problem is the tumbling value of the USD$, Euro€ and UK£ with a rising Australian AUD$.  That and the federal parliament gearing up for a democratic election.
So please, anyone, tell me what the problem with these “You lie!” health reform deniers is all about?