Thursday, 31 August 2006

Think how much worse it would be...

Via Tramtown, the Worst Job Experience, including a wonderful line that begins "think how much worse it would be if.....". RTWT.

Wednesday, 30 August 2006

Evidence for the ICRC

Warning - Bandwidth Heavy

From The Australian :
THE International Committee of the Red Cross has rebuked Foreign Minister Alexander Downer for relying on an unverified internet blog to claim an Israeli missile strike on one of its ambulances in southern Lebanon was a hoax.

A spokeswoman for the ICRC in Geneva said yesterday there was no evidence to support Mr Downer's assertion that the international media had been duped in reporting that Israel had deliberately targeted the ambulance.
Ambulance driver Qassem Shalim was closing the doors of the ambulance when the vehicle was hit. "I am sure the missile was fired from a drone. The blue light was flashing on our roof, the red cross was clear and there was a light on the Lebanese Red Cross flag above me. Everything I said happened did happen," he told The Australian in Beirut.

But yesterday, Mr Downer's spokesman, Tony Parkinson, said the minister was standing by his comments. "Those (website) pictures do not show an ambulance that has been struck by a missile nor do they sustain the argument the ambulance was struck by a missile."

Federal Opposition foreign affairs spokesman, Kevin Rudd, said Mr Downer needed to come clean on his sources.

OK, here is the ambulance in question, immediately after the "missile strike".

Note the dished top, almost as if the ambulance had rolled over. Note the aeriel, bent towards the entry site, almost as if the ambulance had rolled over. Note the rust around the holes, almost as if an accident had happened months before the "missile strike". Note the hole in the roof coincidentally corresponds to the ventilator position in the 2 other ambulances of the same type visible in the picture.

Here's the ambulance from another angle, either before or after it had been moved.

A car hit by a small missile looks like, well, one of these:

This is what a 2000lb bomb does.

I think we can all agree that it wasn't one of those?

OK, so maybe it was one of the smallest missiles in the Israeli inventory, a weapon of 100 lbs weight, that travels at speeds of about 300 m/sec. The Hellfire.

Let's look at the effects of a similar, smaller missile, not on an unarmoured ambulance, but on a fully loaded Main Battle Tank, one with inches of armour plate.

And this is a sales video for the smallest of the Isreali air-launched guided weapons, the Spike. Note the effect on the Tank targets.

Here's what the Time Magazine reported:
But on Sunday night, the emblem of the Red Cross was not enough to deter an Israeli helicopter gunship from firing missiles into a pair of ambulances loading casualties in the village of Qana" ... "As Shaalan closed the back of the ambulance, however, a missile punched through the roof of the vehicle and exploded inside. "There was a boom, a big fire and I was thrown backwards. I thought I was dead," Shaalan recalls. ..."Then a second missile struck the other ambulance." ..."The father's leg was severed by the exploding missile." ... "There was no immediate comment from the Israeli authorities on why a helicopter gunship had attacked a clearly marked Red Cross ambulance."

And the Guardian :
The ambulance headlamps were on, the blue light overhead was flashing, and another light illuminated the Red Cross flag when the first Israeli missile hit, shearing off the right leg of the man on the stretcher inside. As he lay screaming beneath fire and smoke, patients and ambulance workers scrambled for safety, crawling over glass in the dark. Then another missile hit the second ambulance. Even in a war which has turned the roads of south Lebanon into killing zones, Israel's rocket strike on two clearly marked Red Cross ambulances on Sunday night set a deadly new milestone. ... Two ambulances were entirely destroyed, their roofs pierced by missiles. ... One of the members of the three-man crew from Tibnin radioed for help when another missile plunged through the roof. ...He was adamant that the ambulances, with their Red Cross insignia on the roof, were clearly visible from the air. "I don't think there can be a mistake in two bombings of two ambulances," he said.

Now this from the ABC, the goalposts are being moved:
ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I've had a look and some of my staff have had a look at the photographs of an ambulance which, well originally it was alleged it had been hit with a missile, and obviously if an ambulance had been hit with a missile it would have been blown to bits.

TONY EASTLEY: So you definitely think it was a hoax?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well it certainly wasn't true that it was hit with a missile. The ambulance would have been decimated if it had been hit with a missile. So, in that sense the claim that it was hit with a missile was wrong.

Now, I notice that new claims are being made about well maybe there was a drone and something was shot out of a drone. Maybe it wasn't a missile. Well, that's a different argument of course.

But, look, my broader point is this, without sort of getting bogged down what we interpret from the photographs, but that's my interpretation, but I think my broader point is that the way that, it's not so much the Australian media, the international media covered the war in southern Lebanon was very distinctly anti-Israeli, in my view. I thought it was quite biased.

I think in Australia perhaps the coverage was a bit more balanced, but it was very anti-Israeli, and on one occasion a Reuters reporter had to be sacked for doctoring photographs.

TONY EASTLEY: But if I can take you back to the Red Cross vehicle, your interpretation is that it was a hoax, yet the Red Cross, the Red Cross official in Lebanon is saying it did happen.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I mean, I've looked at the photograph as it was portrayed to me at the time, and I must admit I was very surprised at the way the television coverage in particular reported it, international television coverage reported it.

It was reported at the time that a missile had struck this, had been a… deliberately struck this ambulance, and I looked at the photographs and I can't see that a missile could have possibly hit an ambulance, that particular ambulance, and for the Israelis to be deliberately targeting an ambulance with a missile, and then I see the ambulance is not decimated and people survived, it seemed to me that that was a very curious interpretation of a missile...

TONY EASTLEY: It may have been like some, much of the ordinance, it didn't actually explode when it pierced the vehicle. So you still stand by what you said?


OK, there's this from Infinitives Unsplit :
Amongst the many other thoughts that crossed my mind is this:
Missile strikes are pretty conclusive events. In fact, at a conservative estimate and assuming that our helicopter-launched missile has mass of 10kg (which is on the low side) and was travelling at, say, 500 mph (which is ~250m/s and also on the low side), the missile would have had kinetic energy of around 600kJ. This is transferred to the target when it strikes, in a fairly direct and unprepossessing manner.

As a quick quiz, how fast would a car weighing 1 tonne (that's a small/medium UK sized car such as Ford Focus with just the driver in it) have to be going to have 600kJ in kinetic energy?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Ok, I'll tell you. About 50 mph. So even before the warhead detonates, being hit by a missile of that size and at that speed has the same crushing effect on the target as being hit by a car full on at 50mph, except from above, where you don't have all the crumble zones to absorb the impact.

In fact, a Hellfire is about twice the weight, and moves a lot faster.

The Canonical Debunking was done some time ago over at Zombietme.

Meanwhile, have a look at this Reuters "armoured jeep", struck by either a direct hit from a deliberately aimed Israeli missile, or some shrapnel, or possibly a rock dropped from a bridge,

From the Associated Press :
Two missiles fired by Israeli aircraft early Sunday morning hit an armored car belonging to the Reuters news agency and wounded a television cameraman inside, Palestinian witnesses said.

More "instant rust".

Tuesday, 29 August 2006


From the Harvard University Gazette :
Opening a whole new interface between nanotechnology and neuroscience, scientists at Harvard University have used slender silicon nanowires to detect, stimulate, and inhibit nerve signals along the axons and dendrites of live mammalian neurons.

Harvard chemist Charles M. Lieber and colleagues report on this marriage of nanowires and neurons this week in the journal Science.

"We describe the first artificial synapses between nanoelectronic devices and individual mammalian neurons, and also the first linking of a solid-state device -- a nanowire transistor -- to the neuronal projections that interconnect and carry information in the brain," says Lieber, the Mark Hyman Jr. Professor of Chemistry in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Division of Engineering and Applied Sciences. "These extremely local devices can detect, stimulate, and inhibit propagation of neuronal signals with a spatial resolution unmatched by existing techniques."

Electrophysiological measurements of brain activity play an important role in understanding signal propagation through individual neurons and neuronal networks, but existing technologies are relatively crude: Micropipette electrodes poked into cells are invasive and harmful, and microfabricated electrode arrays are too bulky to detect activity at the level of individual axons and dendrites, the neuronal projections responsible for electrical signal propagation and interneuron communication.

By contrast, the tiny nanowire transistors developed by Lieber and colleagues gently touch a neuronal projection to form a hybrid synapse, making them noninvasive, and are thousands of times smaller than the electronics now used to measure brain activity.
The group's latest work takes advantage of the size similarities between ultra-fine silicon nanowires and the axons and dendrites projecting from nerve cells: Nanowires, like neuronal offshoots, are just tens of nanometers in width, making the thin filaments a good match for intercepting nerve signals.

Because the nanowires are so slight -- their contact with a neuron is no more than 20 millionths of a meter in length -- Lieber and colleagues were able to measure and manipulate electrical conductance at as many as 50 locations along a single axon.

This has very important implications for neural-external interfaces. If such precision can be applied to brains in situ rather than single cells in a laboratory, we should be able to learn an awful lot more about our thought processes.

OK, there's a long way to go, maybe a century or two before we can manage that. But probably only a decade or so before prosthetic devices, not just manipulators but sensors, become true replacements for missing limbs.

It also allow the possibility of more capable hybrid circuitry, involving both biological and non-biological components. But, as I've blogged about before, there are definite ethical issues here when using brain tissue from higher animals. The danger that the unthinking machines may not be unfeeling ones.

Monday, 28 August 2006

Colonists Wanted

The Background :

In the middle of the 21st century, a ship of dissidents seeking freedom from the oppressive world government of Earth land on a planet circling the star Alchibah. There, these colonists begin a new life, a new world, a place where the limited government is subordinate to the citizens. First they had to create that government and the documents that would constrain it.

So, if you'd like to participate in this consensual construction of a workable Utopia, just apply for colonist status.

Curtsey to Rocket Jones

Sunday, 27 August 2006

Pug Bowling

A Can of floor polish, a parquetry floor, a laser pointer, some plastic skittles, and a Pug. A breed more known for their playfulness than their Intellect. Voila! A New Indoor Sport!

Pug Bowling - the Video.

Curtsey to Tam of Books, Bikes and Boomsticks.

Saturday, 26 August 2006

A Possible Answer

One thing that has erally bugged me for the last 16 months : What The Heck Happened between May and July last year? I mean, what was the cause, the mechanism?

For the first time, a plausible candidate that fits the facts. Not perfectly, but closer than anything else I've come across.

A statistician friend of mine told me that on basis of sheer rarity, it was likely to require at least 3, and possibly more coincidental factors, some genetic, some environmental. This one fits.

From the CRONE list, experts discussing the effects and dosages of feminising hormones:
In 10 weeks....

Going from 114kg to 80 kg, changing eye colour, losing about 2cm
of height, ... becoming sterile with gonadal atrophy, and
according to a friend who transitioned about 10 years ago and
who witnessed it, having more feminising changes in that time
than she had in her first year of HRT.

Plus flushes, fevers, night sweats, overnight clearance of the
psoriatic eczema I'd had since age 15, increased sensitivity of my
sense of smell, truly vile mood swings,

Those happening within 10 weeks is quite within normal range of
Really? I would have thought that the loss of about 1lb a day
alone with no change to diet or exercise regime would be fairly
uncommon. 24kg is a little over 52 lbs, and over half that was
lost in the first 3 weeks.

...erratic hair growth rates,

>> How could you tell, given the speed of hair growth?
Having one's underarm hair grow half an inch overnight, for
example. Having to shave 3 times a day, then not having to shave
for a week. Things like that.

My hairline also advanced slightly, but I didn't notice that at
the time: hair takes time to grow, as you said.
... cholesterol levels going to a quarter of previous value, serum FAI and E levels doubling and halving on a 4 week cycle.

And no messing with any sort of substances, and no liver problems?
No problems detectable by blood tests, and the only
medication involved was 20mg/day of Lipitor, discontinued when
the changes started happening.

I'm unclear where, in those pictures these changes are supposed
to have been visible, and the picture includes a note that
hormones were started part way through. The results of that are
The 50mcg 17B-oestrodiol patch did not appear to have any
effect, from the blood tests. Besides which, hormones do not, in
the main, take weeks to cause visible changes, especially on
such almost homeopathic doses.

I'm puzzled that you were going through all that, having all
those tests, including expensive MRIs, with no one giving you any
It was decided that in view of the various early metabolic
instabilities, any medication whatsoever would be unwise. Not
even an aspirin. Given the other symptoms, the initial scans
were on the lookout for aggressively malignant hormone-secreting
neoplasms. It was only after these had been ruled out that
anti-androgens to zero the wildly swinging T levels, and an
initial "ramp up" of oestrogen were authorised. This was without
psychiatric assessment, and based on purely metabolic
considerations, plus my strongly expressed desires.

Since there obviously had to be an explanation for all this, I went
looking. and I think I found the explanation. As one would expect in
the one drug being taken, the 20mg/day of Lipitor, a cholesterol

All the sex hormones are made in a chain that starts with cholesterol.
No cholesterol, no testosterone, no progesterone, no estradiol.
Despite the approvals literature saying that cholesterol inhibitors do
not affect hormone levels, there are people in which they do, people
with a genetic mutation that leaves them dependent upon the Leydig
cells of the testes to create cholesterol for hormones. In them the
cholesterol inhibitors cut testosterone levels markedly, as this
paper (British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, DOI:10.1111/j.1365-2125.2004.02128.x; 'Is decreased libido associated with the use of HMG-CoA-reductase inhibitors?' L de Graaf, AHPM Brouwers & WL Diemont) indicates. Testes would therefore shrink, libido drop, etc.. Without testosterone, estradiol drops too, with all that involves. The paper says that some cases took months, or use of a different anti-cholesterol drug, to reverse. Although all they list did recover. But you might seem to have been an especially extreme
case, so maybe you wouldn't have, if you had wished to.

I would guess that you have such a genetic issue, that Lipitor cut
your testicular hormone production drastically, and other hormones
fell accordingly. I would guess the especially dramatic weight loss
would be the result of cortisol (probably historically high from
prolonged stress) dropping, and releasing the fat it is responsible
for depositing and holding around the waist, around the internal
organs. Your pictures indicate you certainly had quite a bit there
initially. Since that can be deposited even when a calorie controlled
diet would seem to make it impossible, its dissipation might well be
independent of calorie considerations too. Obviously you would have
lost testosterone deposited fat too, and muscle bulk. I would guess
your digestion would have been messed up, further aiding weight loss.

The eye colour, brown going to a mixture that is lighter (and more
interesting), is a reduced testosterone thing. I'll post references
for that separately. I experienced it too.

The height reduction thing is something quite common here. The cushion
and lubrication pads between the spinal discs reduce. There being many
of them 2cms is well within range. It can be a water balance / salts
thing, or a progesterone / testo drop. And reducing
testosterone-promoted muscles can alter posture, also reducing height.

No doubt that cholesterol issue could be checked by testing, but you
may prefer your records to read as they do. Approaching transition as
you have done has its advantages, not least detouring the
psychiatrists, as well as problems. It must have been very frightening.

Your estradiol levels, and response to estradiol, probably need to be
considered in the context of your having been fairly comprehensively
hormone deprived. Receptors, and the storage buffers in fat and SHBG

Thanks Anna. That may be the explanation, in whole or in part, or it may not. But it's the first plausible candidate that I've come across.

Friday, 25 August 2006

JAEsat Lives!

i reported on the tragic destruction of JAEsat in a previous post.

Looks like I got it wrong.

The latest satellite manifest of the failed Dniepr-1 launch was:
and CubeSats:
PolySat 1
PolySat 2
Rincon 1

But no JAEsat.

Now according to the schedule from 14 August, it had been re-scheduled at close to the last moment, and is now set to go some time in 2007. And Bluesat looks live it's scheduled for October 6th.

We Shall See.

Thursday, 24 August 2006

I've been Certified

Just in today's mail, a Registered package.

My new Citizenship Certificate.

Had I known that I could have gotten one, I would have been able to apply for a passport without revealing the name change (and formerly male gender).

Ah well, live and learn. The Immigration website does say that Citizenship certificates can't be changed, but as it turns out, in exceptional circumstances like these, they can.

So now it's certified that Zoe Ellen Brain has been a citizen of Australia since 1988. Of course it's signed by the current Immigration Minister, not the one then, but that's just a minor anomaly.


Maybe I should inform the Passport Office of the new situation. It might give them a plausible way out of the impasse....

Wednesday, 23 August 2006

Sometimes you win, and sometimes...

A recent decision by the Victorian division of the Federal Court was a bit of a blow.

The case is FCA 1071 AB vs Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

1 The applicant was born in Victoria in 1944. The applicant’s birth was registered in the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages with male given names and the sex recorded as male.
2 In 1967 the applicant married a woman. They remain married but live separately.
3 The applicant changed her given names to female names and on 31 March 2000 was issued with a new birth certificate under Pt 4 of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1996 (Vic) (the BDM Act). The certificate showed the new female given names, and not the former male given names, but still recorded the sex as male.
4 On 20 April 2002 the applicant completed the surgical phase of sex affirmation surgery. This involved the alteration of the applicant’s reproductive organs for the purpose of assisting the applicant to be considered a member of the female sex.
5 The applicant subsequently applied to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for alteration of the record of her sex in the birth register.
6 The Registrar stated that she could not proceed with the application because the applicant was married and thus did not meet the criteria of ss 30A(1) and 30C(3) of the BDM Act.
7 The applicant seeks, under s 46PO of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Act 1986 (Cth), a declaration that the Registrar has unlawfully discriminated against her and an order that the Registrar alter the record of the applicant’s sex in her birth registration. Compensation in the agreed sum of $1000 is sought. A claim for an apology is no longer pursued.
8 The parties agree that the Court should decide the following question:
"Was the refusal of the Registrar to consider on its merits the application to alter the record or to alter the record of the applicant’s sex in the applicant’s birth registration an act which constituted unlawful discrimination on the ground of marital status within the meaning of s 22 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)?"
It was held that the Commonwealth Law on the subject of discrimination due to Marital Status derived from it's External Treaties power under the Australian Constitution. Basically, the Federal Government has no powers to make any anti-Discrimination law unless it is to cause the country to conform with an external treaty, in this case, a UN convention on women's rights.

Any law that discriminates against both married men and married women, or against both unmarried men and unmarried women, was deemed not to be covered by the UN convention, and hence, the Commonwealth law, no matter what it said, has no power.

The upshot is the absurdity that the woman in question remains legally a man (or at least, that's what it says on her birth certificate), just as long as she's married. Should she divorce, then magically her status changes, and the birth certificate can be changed.

Similar laws are in effect in all territories and states of Australia. The Australian Capital Territory's Legislative Assembly tried to change its own law, but the Federal Cabinet disallowed that, along with the rest of the Civil Union legislation of which it was a small part.


You know, transition is hard enough without this kind of thing.

Tuesday, 22 August 2006

HAR1F - What Made Us Human?

From CBS :
Scientists believe they have found a key gene that helped the human brain evolve from our chimp-like ancestors. In just a few million years, one area of the human genome seems to have evolved about 70 times faster than the rest of our genetic code. It appears to have a role in a rapid tripling of the size of the brain's crucial cerebral cortex, according to an article published Thursday in the journal Nature.

Study co-author David Haussler, director of the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering at the University of California, Santa Cruz, said his team found strong but still circumstantial evidence that a certain gene, called HAR1F, may provide an important answer to the question: "What makes humans brainier than other primates?" Human brains are triple the size of chimp brains.

Looking at 49 areas that have changed the most between the human and chimpanzee genomes, Haussler zeroed in on an area with "a very dramatic change in a relatively short period of time."

That one gene didn't exist until 300 million years ago and is present only in mammals and birds, not fish or animals without backbones. But then it didn't change much at all. There are only two differences in that one gene between a chimp and a chicken, Haussler said.

But there are 18 differences in that one gene between human and chimp and they all seemed to occur in the development of man, he said.
And it's not just that this gene changed a lot. There is also its involvement with the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for some of the more complex brain functions, including language and information processing.

"It looks like in fact it is important in the development of brain," said co-author Sofie Salama, a research biologist at Santa Cruz who led the efforts to identify where the gene is active in the body.

The scientists still don't know specifically what the gene does. But they know that this same gene turns on in human fetuses at seven weeks after conception and then shuts down at 19 weeks, Haussler said.
Just when the neural development starts up. Now it's by no means proven, but yes, it looks a reasonable hypothesis.

Now why did it change? And how stable is it? These and other questions to be answered in the next century or so. Maybe. There's so very much about the brain we don't know, after all.

Monday, 21 August 2006

The Great Passport Fiasco : August 21st Edition

An explanatory (and apologetic) call from the Australian Passport Office, early this morning. The situation as they saw it was that I had been informed over the phone that my passport application was going to be rejected, and that the APO were working on the formal letter to that effect. Accordingly, my application had been withdrawn.


It seems that there is now a thing called a "Ministerial" in play now. Exactly what a "Ministerial" is, I'm not sure. Whether it is a Ministerial Query, a Ministerial Pronunciamento of new policy, or just a Ministerial determination of a particular case, I have no idea. I suspect just a simple "please explain" from On High. But the effect is as of a Demon King appearing amongst the Fairies, and there were profuse apologies for withdrawing my application.

The application been re-instated, and they never, ever, ever would have thought of withdrawing it if they knew a Ministerial was involved, oh my word, no! It didn't take Mandrake the Magician to detect more than a mild overtone of Panic in the APO.

Well, I did tell them I'd written to the Minister.

So the current state of play is... that I have no idea. But the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in addition to looking after multi-billion dollar trade negotiations and peace talks about the War in Lebanon, is finding a few seconds to cast his jaundiced eye on the situation. It looks like the Policy Section hadn't been keeping him as informed as they should have, and what I thought might have been the result of Ministerial direct intervention, wasn't. But who knows, it is, after all, the Public Circus Service. Guesses, Conjectures and reading Tea Leaves is no substitute for knowing the facts.

I don't expect a quick answer. I now have just over 80 days before leaving the country, and it's doubtful it will be settled before then.

Now would be a good time to say that I really, really don't need this stuff.

Sunday, 20 August 2006

Problem Solved.

Continuing from a previous post, the latest news from The Independent :
A transsexual business executive claiming damages of £500,000 for discrimination at work has been ordered to leave the country by the Home Office.

Jessica Bussert, 41, has been told her work permit is no longer valid and she must return to the United States this week.

The senior IT consultant has claimed damages from Hitachi Data Systems at an employment tribunal for discrimination in what could prove a test case for transsexuals everywhere. But after she filed a claim for constructive dismissal she received a letter from the Home Office saying her work permit was no longer valid and she had 28 days to leave the country.

Here's what they did to her: From UK of all places.
Jessica Bussert, who has filed the largest ever claim for sex discrimination against a transsexual, has recently been informed by the British Home Office that she and her spouse must leave England by August 21.
Ms. Bussert has filed an appeal citing UK and EU legislation supporting her position, but the Home Office has yet to reply.
Concurrent to this action, Ms. Bussert has also recently learned that her tribunal hearing has been delayed once again. Originally scheduled for May 22, the hearing was later rescheduled for August 10.

In a recent ruling, the Reading Employment Tribunal has decided to reschedule the hearing to an unspecified date following a request for additional time from the respondent, HDS.

So out she goes. Delay enough, and Problem solved.

But maybe not.
Ms Bussert, whose wife Sharon will also have to leave the country this week, said she would continue to fight her case and would fly back to Britain from Indiana.
Of course that's going to be as difficult for her as fighting any Administrative Appeals Tribunal case from the UK would be for me.

Things like that happen to people like us.

Amateur Chilli Tasting

I'm on many TS support groups, ranging from experts discussing hormones, surgical evaluations of facial and other surgery, all the way to sites providing both information and emotional support.

They all are essential. The latter is particular can be a literal life-saver.

Another thing that is essential in all this is a sense of humour. Here's a recent post on one of those "emotional support" sites. Sometimes it helps to lighten the atmosphere, life's far too important to take too seriously.

Oh yes : a Drink Warning is In Effect.

Notes From An Inexperienced Chili Tester Named Frank, who was visiting Texas from the East Coast:

'Recently, I was honored to be selected as a judge at a chili cook-off. The original person called in sick at the last moment and I happened to be standing there at the judge's table asking directions to the beer wagon, when the call came. I was assured by the other two judges (Native Texans) that the chili wouldn't be all that spicy, and besides, they told me I could have free beer during the tasting, so I accepted.'

Here are the scorecards from the event:

________________________________________ __________________


JUDGE ONE: A little too heavy on tomato. Amusing kick.

JUDGE TWO: Nice, smooth tomato flavor. Very mild.

FRANK: Holy shit, what the hell is this stuff? You could remove dried paint from your driveway. Took me two beers to put the flames out. I hope that's the worst one. These Texans are crazy.

________________________________________ __________________


JUDGE ONE: Smokey, with a hint of pork. Slight Jalapeno tang.

JUDGE TWO: Exciting BBQ flavor, needs more peppers to be taken seriously.

FRANK: Keep this out of the reach of children I'm not sure what I am supposed to taste besides pain. I had to wave off two people who wanted to give me the Heimlich maneuver. They had to rush in more beer when they saw the look on my face.

________________________________________ __________________


JUDGE ONE: Excellent firehouse chili! Great kick. Needs more beans.

JUDGE TWO: A beanless chili, a bit salty, good use of peppers.

FRANK: Call the EPA, I've located a uranium spill. My nose feels like I have been snorting Drano. Everyone knows the routine by now get me more beer before I ignite. Barmaid pounded me on the back; now my backbone is in the front part of my chest. I'm getting shit-faced from all the beer.

________________________________________ ________________


JUDGE ONE: Black bean chili with almost no spice. Disappointing.

JUDGE TWO: Hint of lime in the black beans. Good side dish for fish or other mild foods, not much of a chili.

FRANK: I felt something scraping across my tongue, but was unable to taste it, is it possible to burnout taste buds? Sally, the barmaid, was standing behind me with fresh refills; that 300 lb. bitch is starting to look HOT just like this nuclear waste I'm eating. Is chili an aphrodisiac?

________________________________________ _______________


JUDGE ONE: Meaty, strong chili. Cayenne peppers freshly ground, adding considerable kick. Very Impressive.

JUDGE TWO: Chili using shredded beef, could use more tomato. Must admit the cayenne peppers make a strong statement.

FRANK: My ears are ringing, sweat is pouring off my forehead and I can no longer focus my eyes. I farted and four people behind me needed paramedics. The contestant seemed offended when I told her that her chili had given me brain damage, Sally saved my tongue from bleeding by pouring beer directly on it from a pitcher. I wonder if I'm burning my lips off? It really pisses me off that the other judges asked me to stop screaming. Screw those rednecks!

________________________________________ ________________


JUDGE ONE: Thin yet bold vegetarian variety chili. Good balance of spice and peppers.

JUDGE TWO: The best yet. Aggressive use of peppers, onions, and garlic. Superb.

FRANK: My intestines are now a straight pipe filled with gaseous, sulfuric flames. I shit myself when I farted and I'm worried it will eat through the chair. No one seems inclined to stand behind me except Sally. Can't feel my lips anymore. I need to wipe my ass with a snow cone!

________________________________________ ___________


JUDGE ONE: A mediocre chili with too much reliance on canned peppers.

JUDGE TWO: Ho Hum, tastes as if the chef literally threw in a can of chili peppers at the last moment. I should take note that I am worried about Judge Number 3, He appears to be in a bit of distress as he is cursing uncontrollably.

FRANK: You could put a grenade in my mouth, pull the pin, and I wouldn't feel a damn thing. I've lost sight in one eye, and the world sounds like it is made of rushing water. My shirt is covered with chili, which slid unnoticed out of my mouth. My pants are full of lava-like shit to match my damn shirt. At least during the autopsy they'll know what killed me. I've decided to stop breathing, it's too painful. Screw it, I'm not getting any oxygen anyway. If I need air, I'll just suck it in through the 4-inch hole in my stomach.

Yes, that one was courtesy of one of the few boys on the list, I guess that shows. He had his hysterectomy recently.

Charlie Foxtrot in the Lebanon

No battle Plan ever survives contact with the Enemy. But going in without a cohesive plan is a recipe for, well, this.
When dusk fell, we again geared up. The officers were determined to carry out the mission without further delay, but we were down to our last drops of water. Over the radio we learned that the bodies of the helicopter crew had been recovered. The officers decided to divide the unit into two task forces; one to evacuate the wounded amongst us: three soldiers who had broken or sprained ankles and legs in the previous days' frantic marches over the harsh terrain. They would be airlifted along with the remains of the helicopter crew back into Israeli territory. The second unit was to search for the water that had been dropped from airplanes the night before. After, we were to reunite and make our final push to the mountain slope to put an end to the firing of rockets from that area into our cities in the north.

I was placed in the squad to evacuate the wounded, and as we made our way to the landing site carrying the stretchers, a call came over the radio. A General Staff order was made to all forces operating in the area: immediately stop all proactive measures in observance of a cease-fire, a cease fire that we had no idea was even in the works. Just like that, the war was suddenly over, for now.
For Now.

From Normblog

Friday, 18 August 2006

The Great Passport Fiasco : August 18th Edition

Just out of curiousity, I phoned up the Passport InfoLine again, to see what, if anything, was happening regarding my passport application.

It turns out it had been marked as "awaiting further documentation", with a later note to say that the documentation (whatever it was) had been recieved.

The application had also been withdrawn.

The consultant was, um, nonplussed at this.

Later on in the day, a voicemail on my mobile said that the application had been re-instated.

Verily, not only does the Left Hand not know what the Right is doing, it appears it doesn't know what the Left one is doing either.

Whisky Tango Foxtrot Interrogative

I've decided to be amused at this. I'm also eagerly and with much anticipation awaiting the reply in writing from the Director of Passport Operations explaining their actions. Who knows, I might be able to show them the replacement Citizenship certificate before then, which may just provide them with an excuse to act sensibly.

Breath-holding though is contra-indicated.

Thursday, 17 August 2006

How to Fly in Safety

Stay at home, and do it virtually. And if you don't like the choice of starting locations, make your own.

Curtsey to Utterly Boring

Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Lost, Stolen or Strayed : Part of Our Heritage

<sarcasm>Nothing very important.</sarcasm>

From Space Daily :
NASA no longer knows the whereabouts of the original tapes of man's first landing on the moon nearly 40 years ago, an official of the US space agency said Tuesday. "NASA is searching for the original tapes of the Apollo 11 spacewalk on July 21, 1969," said Ed Campion, a spokesman for NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, a Washington suburb.

The tapes record the famous declaration of Apollo astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, as he set foot on its surface: "That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind."

The original tapes could be somewhere at the Goddard center or in the archives network of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Campion said.

The search for the tapes began about a year and a half ago when the Goddard Space Flight Center's authorities realized they no longer knew where they were after retired employees asked to consult them.
The original tapes of the Apollo 11 mission were recorded at three tracking stations: Goldstone in California and Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station and Parkes Observatory in Australia.

They were then sent to the Goddard Space Flight Center, which transferred them to the National Archives in late 1969. Later, NASA asked to recover the tapes and that is where the trace disappeared.

"A search is being planned, aimed at finding what happened to the Goddard-recalled Apollo 11 mission data tapes," Campion said.
What we have still extant are poor-quality videotapes taken by pointing a video camera at a monitor.

Tuesday, 15 August 2006

Human Evolution

From LiveScience :
A comprehensive scan of the human genome finds that hundreds of our genes have undergone positive natural selection during the past 10,000 years of human evolution.
Researchers from the University of Chicago analyzed the genomes of 209 unrelated individuals from three distinct human populations: East Asians, Europeans and Yorubans from Nigeria. Each population contained roughly 250 positively selected genes; however, most of the affected genes differed depending on the group.
The new study links genetic changes to major events in the history of our species.

“There have been a lot of recent changes—the advent of agriculture, shifts in diet, new habitats, climatic changes—over the past 10,000 years," said Jonathan Pritchard, a human geneticist at the University of Chicago who led the study.

Many genes were found to be evolving in all three of the human populations studied. The specific functions of many of the genes are not known, but the researchers were able to separate them into broad categories. These categories include:
  • Olfaction: the researchers found many genes important for taste and smell
  • Reproduction: involved in things like sperm mobility and egg fertilization
  • Increasing brain size
  • Bone development and skeletal changes
  • Carbohydrate metabolism: positive selection was observed for genes involved in breaking down mannose in Yorubans, sucrose in East Asians, and lactose for Europeans. (Mannose is a sweet secretion found in some trees and shrubs, sucrose is common table sugar, and lactose is a sugar found in milk.)
  • Disease resistance and pathogen protection
  • Metabolism of foreign compounds, such as exotic plant proteins or animal toxins
The researchers also found positive selection in four pigment genes important for lighter skin in Europeans that were not known before. Scientists think humans evolved lighter skin in Europe as an adaptation to less sunlight.

And in East Asians, they found strong evidence of positive selection in genes involved in the production of alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), a protein necessary for breaking down alcohol. Many East Asians can't metabolize alcohol because they carry a mutation that prevents them from making ADH. The new finding suggests that the mutation may confer some currently unknown additional benefit.

The study, which used data collected by the International HapMap Project, is detailed in the March 7 issue of the journal Public Library of Science-Biology.
As a species, it looks like we mutate at the drop of a hat, very unstable genetically compared with most species of our size.

I wonder why?

Saturday, 12 August 2006

Sensational Stuff

And troubling too.

I first blogged about Dr Potter's experiments with laminated mouse brains foetal rat tissue in Cyborgs, Hybrots and Borg, Oh My! back in July, 2003. Over 3 years ago. Well, there have been a few changes since then...

From Wired :
The first generation of animats performed simple tasks. The virtual mouse tended to move in one direction (right). A dish-brain-controlled robot did manage to stay away from a moving target -- impressive-sounding perhaps but not particularly complicated. A robotic arm holding a set of pens and attached to a clump of neurons created art -- albeit in the eye of the beholder.

Researchers have found that lab-grown neuron cultures tend to fire in bizarrely synchronized, dishwide waves, eerily echoing the neural patterns seen during Alzheimer's disease.

"It's possible that this is a state of arrested development," Potter said, "or that the networks are asleep because they're missing the parts (humans) use to wake up. It's (also) possible that the networks are in some sort of epileptic state."

The repeated firing may have wiped the animats' memories, Potter said. His group has since learned to reduce the bursts with electric stimuli, which acts as a massage to ease the dish-brain's stress.

While he's quick to disavow any comparisons to Dr. Frankenstein, Potter admits the clumps have a certain amount of awareness.

"Since our cultured networks are so interconnected, they have some sense of what is going in themselves," he said. "We can also feed their activity back to them, to mediate their 'sense of self.'"

The next phase of animats will likely have an even keener sense of self.

"In the next wave, we hope to sequence behaviors." Potter said. "The sensory input resulting from one behavior will trigger the next appropriate behavior." In other words, he hopes the animats will learn.

Time to quote from another article of mine, back in October of the same year.
The problem of Animal Rights becomes acute and immediate when we consider the experimentation currently underway with Hybots. It can be persuasively argued that experimentation with primitive organisms like lampreys (Gugliotta 2001) and spiny lobsters(Aguilera 1999) do not involve "thinking creatures" as such. The fact that some of the neural processing can be replaced by an absurdly simple inorganic equivalent is strong evidence of this. A lamprey or a spiny lobster, despite being organic, may in fact be no more than a self-directing robot. The situation described by Graham-Rowe 2001 is less clear : only a few thousand neurons are used, and from Rat foetuses rather than the fully-developed animal, yet it is this very plasticity and higher level of development that leads one to suspect that the result may "think" in an animal fashion rather than merely be a robot with organic parts. Should such a Hybot be able to navigate a maze, then very troubling ethical issues arise regarding cruelty. We can plausibly avoid the issue when dealing with a non-organic artificial intelligence with the same external behaviour, but we know Rats think. And the situation regarding fully inorganic artificial intelligence is not as clear-cut as it once was, given the experimentation with Cyborgs and prosthetic brain parts. There is potential for suffering on a scale undreamt-of, and for very much longer than a normal lifespan. Call it Hell on Earth. Conversely, there is the possibility that we might fully understand the nature of thought, and resolve the issues of how we should treat animals. We may even be able to augment ourselves to become, if not Gods, perhaps a little more wise as well as intelligent. Call it Heaven on Earth.

As I said, troubling. With the pace of development, the time to think about ethical issues raised by this experimentation is now, not ten years hence.

Friday, 11 August 2006

My New Career

My latest blood test results are in. Normal, except in the area of hormones and cholesterol. As always.

Oestrodiol level is a record high, 241 PMol/L! Of course, with the dose I'm on, anything less than 400 is distinctly odd. I know a woman on a similar dose of hormones whose level is 450, and she's having problems because of that. Most people would have 900-1200 at least. And I did have 195 pMol/L before HRT, so it's not exactly a huge increase, just over statistical signifcance in fact.

SHBG (Sex Hormone Binding Globulin) down, when it could be expected to be up. Prolactin down too, which is sorta good as too much is dangerous, but indicates that the HRT isn't doing quite what it should to my pituitary.

Testosterone now at midrange of female levels, very good since LH and FSH hormone levels indicate zero testicular activity. So I won't need T supplements when I'm post-op, and may indeed need anti-androgens.

Cholesterol.... not good. Pretty woeful in fact. The protective HDL is down from an already abnormally low 0.8 to 0.7, the dangerous LDL up from 2.2 in January to 4.1 now, definitely dangerous. Total cholesterol 5.2, double what it was before HRT began, but still a tadge lower than it was before the metabolic storm hit.

All in all, it looks like the matebolic storm is over, and my system is back to pre-storm levels, only modified by the HRT I'm on. I'd say "normal", but there's not much normal about it, it's normal for me, which is to say, as odd as it's always been. Bad inasmuch as feminisation will now be at the usual glacial rate for someone in their 40's, good inasmuch as maybe things will be more predictable, and the time before surgery when I have to discontinue HRT won't be the Hormone Hell that I experienced in May-July 2005, just before HRT.

I'm now in a pre-approval test programme for a new anti-cholesterol drug not yet available in Australia, which specifically targets LDL levels.

My new career? Experimental Animal (Voluntary)

Thursday, 10 August 2006

Multimedia Personality

I appeared for the first time on Radio last night. On 2XX Community Radio's fortnightly "Q-Radio" programme, with Steph and Tiffany.

Steph I'd known for years in her previous incarnation. Another Wargamer. I didn't know she'd transitioned until about 6 months ago though, and she did it years ago.

The programme (as you can gather) is for the Queer Community, whatever that is. LGBITQ etc etc. Last time, they had someone from Press For Change, trying to educate the LGB community at large about the legal and medical problems faced by TS people. The Theory, the "Big Picture".

And now a concrete example. Moi. If the APO continues to be intransigent, this could be a regular feature : "The Perils of Pauline Zoe, and her Battle with Bureaucracy". I must be careful to give credit to helpful bureaucrats where I can, remember 80% of the audience are Public Servants themselves....

As far as I know, the programme's not recorded. Such things as recording equipment or CD burners are well beyond their means. 2XX is run on a shoestring, and has some equipment that must be worth a fortune now, in a museum of antiquities. Possibly older than I am.

The Great Passport Fiasco : August 8th-10th Edition

A phonecall from DIMA while I was on the bus, going to Sydney for the usual quarterly Endocrinologists appointment.

With a doctor's letter stating that I'm transitioning, and intend to live the rest of my life as a woman, then I can get a new Citizenship certificate, with a new name.

That means I could re-apply for a passport with no telltale evidence that I ever looked male..... and if they made a fuss, then I'd point out what it says in the MAPI, and ask why other women submitting exactly the same evidence are treated differently.

So it's now the 10th, I have the form filled out, the photo countersigned by a chartered engineer who's known me for more than a year, and I'm about to go to DIMA's ACT regional office to put the form in.

Another piece of good news : Prof Steinbeck is still registered by the UK GMC, and is a Gender Specialist. So I might be able to get my UK Birth Certificate changed, assuming they change the law. Probably not before 2020 at the earliest, but you never know.

Monday, 7 August 2006

The Great Passport Fiasco : August 7th Edition

In order to get an application for a visa for my UK passport processed, it would be very helpful if DIFA, that is, the Department of Immigration, Multicultural Affairs and Indigenous Affairs had my records updated. Starting with my name.

You see, every Government Department has its own little database, and it hadn't ocurred to me that as I wasn't born here, I'd need to update my records at DIMA too.

The ACT Branch office, as I said in the August 4th post, were very helpful, got me the forms, photocopied and notarised the documents, they were great.

So I dropped into the DIMA head office, and hand-delivered the form to save time with postage delays. I'm told that in 2, 3, or perhaps 6 months, a case officer will eventually get to look at the application, evaluate it, and then in due course, a change may possibly be made. That takes a while. But it won't even be looked at for months, certainly.


I was told a letter asking them to expedite the process may help, once someone gets to evaluate that. That could take some time too. It would happen in the fullness of time. When the moment is propitious. So I better get writing, and hand-deliver that one too. I only have 96 days before I have to travel.

Onto the other front, trying to trace the latest edition of the Manual of Australian Passport Issue. The one at the National Library was dated 1994, and as it turns out, so is the one at the DFAT Library. Finding that out took a phone call to the Librarian.
The H V Evatt Library is located within the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Public access to the library's resources is through the Australia wide interlibrary lending scheme. The Library's holdings are listed on the National Bibliographic Database and can be borrowed by other libraries. Researcher and post graduate student access will be granted if the H V Evatt library is the only library in Canberra holding relevant material. This must be arranged prior to any visit.

The Library is open Monday to Friday between 9.30 and 5 pm. The H V Evatt Library is not open to members of the public.
Hmmmm... so where CAN I find the latest edition? I know, ring up the Passport InfoLine.

They were very helpful. The first operator seemed to think that it wasn't actually available to the public, and she may even be right. She called in a Senior Operator anyway, to try to help me.

Then came a very interesting conversation. I never did find out how to get to the latest MAPI, but I did find out that my application hadn't been closed after all, but had been sent to "Policy" yet again, without my requesting it, or even knowing about it. This makes a Third time. Now with a notation that I be given a formal answer in writing.

The Senior Operator agreed that, from what I'd told her, my situation didn't fit in the box they were trying to put me in, and hoped that, and I quote, "Common Sense would prevail."

I have my doubts, but Hope springs eternal, and all that.

I hope to be able to do some work on my PhD research one day, instead of driving round Canberra, hand delivering forms, and speaking with bureaucrats, some very helpful, others who have been in the Public Service too long, if you get my drift.

Saturday, 5 August 2006

Israel Under Attack

The immediate threat : over 10 THOUSAND rockets, each quite capable of demolishing small buildings and killing all those inside. Mostly 122mm in calibre, the same sort of warhead as on a 5 inch Naval Gun, rather larger than the 105mm howitzsers standard in WW II, and many times heavier than the 75 and 77mm guns of WW I.

And of course, some are much larger, the size of telagraph poles, and carry a half ton of high explosive, more than the largest bombs in the Israeli inventory. Those weigh a tonne, but must of that is the weight of the casing.

And these weapons, according to the people who launch them, are specifically for usie on civilians. They're proud of the fact, they just want to Kille Jews.

From Politics Central :
8:23 AM
Eugene: siren

………… [Silence] …………

8:24 AM
Van der Leun: you okay?

8:24 AM
where are you now ?

8:28 AM
i take it you are off the air for a bit ?

8:30 AM
Eugene: Back

8:30 AM
don’t worry if I sometimes have a siren during chat

8:30 AM
it’s common, most of the time its false

8:30 AM
Van der Leun: how do you know the difference?

8:31 AM
Eugene: like this….

8:31 AM
no booms, false alarm

8:32 AM
you wait a few minutes and they tell you

8:32 AM
Van der Leun: how do they know to sound the siren? radar? watchmen? ground observers?

8:32 AM
Eugene: probably all of the above

8:33 AM
Van der Leun: Is there a network of sirens all around the region? or just in the city?

8:33 AM
And how loud are they, really?

8:34 AM
Eugene: varies

8:34 AM
sometimes it’s so faint you don’t even know unless the TV is on

8:34 AM
sometimes its London WWII loud

8:35 AM
Van der Leun: Humm, don’t quite understand why that should be so. I mean, is it a case of a distant siren in some other sector

8:35 AM
Eugene: region is divided into sectors, each have their own sirens.

8:35 AM
Van der Leun: oh i see

8:35 AM
Eugene: it’s not a full proof system

8:35 AM
Van der Leun: But seeing as how the aim of these rockets is not that precise, isn’t there a risk that people will, hearing the faint siren, conclude that they are in no danger?

8:36 AM
Eugene: NO. The RULE is: siren, bunker. no questions.

8:38 AM
Van der Leun: what’s the record time for Siren/Bunker so far?

8:39 AM
Eugene: How fast I got down there? Few days ago — 5:39AM — siren sounds after a brutal day in Haifa….

8:39 AM
40 seconds later and I’m down there with my brother, fully dressed.

That graphic sent to me by a friend and ex-colleague of mine. His family is in the Hezbollah target area according to Hizbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. His son is an IDF reservist, and his daughter is about to join up. They're all Israelis, and thus targetted for enslevement or extermination by Hamas and Hezbollah anyway they can accomplish that.

The second, and more deadly threat in the lomg run : Pallywood, and the manipulation of the media. It's quite simple: play along, and get access. Don't play along, and they "know where you live". The Threat Simple.
From NRO
CNN senior international correspondent Nic Robertson admitted that his anti-Israel report from Beirut on July 18 about civilian casualties in Lebanon was stage-managed from start to finish by Hezbollah. He revealed that his story was heavily influenced by Hezbollah’s “press officer” and that Hezbollah have “very, very sophisticated and slick media operations.”

When pressed a few days later about his reporting on the CNN program Reliable Sources, Robertson acknowledged that Hezbollah militants had instructed the CNN camera team where and what to film. Hezbollah “had control of the situation,” Robertson said. “They designated the places that we went to, and we certainly didn’t have time to go into the houses or lift up the rubble to see what was underneath.”

Robertson added that Hezbollah has “very, very good control over its areas in the south of Beirut. They deny journalists access into those areas. You don’t get in there without their permission. We didn’t have enough time to see if perhaps there was somebody there who was, you know, a taxi driver by day, and a Hezbollah fighter by night.”
Another journalist let the cat out of the bag last week. Writing on his blog while reporting from southern Lebanon, Time contributor Christopher Allbritton, casually mentioned in the middle of a posting: “To the south, along the curve of the coast, Hezbollah is launching Katyushas, but I’m loathe to say too much about them. The Party of God has a copy of every journalist’s passport, and they’ve already hassled a number of us and threatened one.”

Robertson is not the only foreign journalist to have misled viewers with selected footage from Beirut. NBC’s Richard Engel, CBS’s Elizabeth Palmer, and a host of European and other networks, were also taken around the damaged areas by Hezbollah minders. Palmer commented on her report that “Hizbullah is also determined that outsiders will only see what it wants them to see.”

Card courtesy of Little Green Footballs, and no, it's not a fake.

A few amateurs, with no pressure to retain the "access" which their MSM competitors have, have managed to smuggle out a few photos contradicting the Hezbollah line.

Bloggers have pointed out blatant lies in stories that MSM has swallowed whole.

Hezbollah has masses of testimony, including those of UN officials, that there were no Hezbollah forces anywahere near Qana. This has been shown many times on MSM outlets, noticeably the BBC.

All Israel has is the video of rockets being fired from there. That's available on the web - if you know where to find it. MSM doesn't want to know, it would contradict their story, and get their reporters denied access.

There's more photos and video available, showing rockets being launched, and the wreckage of some of the ones hidden in damaged mosques and other buildings.

Few have any doubt that a second Holocaust would ensue if Hamas, Hezbollah and their backers got their way.

Stop it Or I'll Meme

Tagged Again, this time by Fred Kiesche of The Eternal Golden Braid.

1. One Book That Changed Your Life

The Screwtape Letters by C.S.Lewis. A Bureaucracy much resembling the APO at times...

2. One book you have read more than once

I read most books more than once. One that stands out as multiply-readable is David Brin's Earth.

3. One book you would want on a desert island

The SAS Survival Handbook. Ever the practical girl, me.

4. One book that made you laugh

The first book that gave me good, honest, innocent laughs was Bennett Cerf's Book of Riddles.

5. One book that made you cry

True Selves. I hadn't realised I wasn't alone, and it's heartwrenching to see your own Life Story mirrored so accurately.

6. One book you wish you had written

Bronowski's The Ascent of Man

7. One book you wish had never been written

Anything by Chomsky. Anything. I was given a book of his to review by a publisher, and felt an obligation to go through it, carefully, cover-to-cover. Never Again.

8. One book you are currently reading

Only re-reads at the moment. Right now, the Illuminatus Trilogy, one of those books you keep on seeing new things in every time you read it. Probably because it's so Chaotic.

9. One book you have been meaning to read

"The Pocket Stylist: Behind-the-Scenes Expertise from a Fashion Pro on Creating Your Own Look" - for me, it's a textbook, there's so much I have still to learn. I've just been a bit too busy living to do it.

10. Now tag five people

Lloyd at It Looks Different From Here
Matt at Entirely Madd
Alan at MythusMage Opines
Morgan at Morgspace
And the incomparable and prolific Ninme

Friday, 4 August 2006

The Great Passport Fiasco : August 4th Edition

Salvo #2, and a formal Declaration of War:
Dear Sir/Madam,

In accordance with ADMINISTRATIVE DECISIONS (JUDICIAL REVIEW) ACT 1977 - SECT 13, please furnish a statement in writing setting out the findings on material questions of fact, referring to the evidence or other material on which those findings were based, and giving the reasons for the decision not to grant my passport application.

Yours Sincerely

Zoe Ellen Brain, BSc MInfoTech(Distinction)

Note the omissions.

It was my intent to give them another chance, to point out the consequences of their actions to them, to allow them to change their minds before legal action was taken.

But, after taking legal advice, I was advised not to telegraph my punches. There's been no evidence of "good faith" high up the food chain, nor a willingness to do anything other than the absolute minimum. I still haven't been informed in writing of the refusal, for example, so can't use that as a lever to get an Australian Declaratory Visa with Immigration. But thanks to the good offices of the case officer, I now know how to get that, and rather more.

I delivered it by hand at 1530 today, at the Australian Passport Office's head office. The 28-day period for them to reply therefore starts today, rather than in 3 days time.

It was genuinely a coincidence that the people concerned had all left early, and that they won't actually see it until Monday. Well, that's not my fault, I delivered it well before Close of Business.

Now for the flanking attack.

Immediately afterwards, I headed for the ACT regional office of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. I figured a copy of the letter demanding to know the reasons for my passport refusal just might be enough to convince the dreaded Immigration Bureaucrats that they should give me an Australian Declaratory Visa for my UK passport.

Talk about chalk and cheese.

They were helpful, trying to find ways within the labyrinthine Immigration Act to make things happen in my favour. Suggesting things I could do, like getting my Citizenship Certificate changed, they got the right forms, photocopied all the documents needed and certified them so I wouldn't have to... and all late on a Friday Afetrnoon when everyone just wanted to go home. They stayed back late, photocopying, looking up databases, consulting with head office on the phone, and I confess I shed a few tears simply because they were so supportive.

Instead of being treated by the organisation as some sort of subhuman that they just wanted to dissappear, I was treated with extra consideration, as someone who had more difficulties on her plate than most.

That's the Australian Public Service that I know. The APO's mandarins really are some nightmarishly abberant transphobic organ within the APS.

There's many a slip, but it looks like I'll be able to get back into Australia on my UK passport one way or another. The Immigration people even had the imagination to suggest that since DFAT couldn't prove my Citizenship, there was nothing to stop Immigration from giving me a permanent re-entry visa not available to citizens.

I have a backup to the backup as well. The President of the ANU Students Union got involved when I talked with the ANUSU lawyer, and she has some heavy-duty political contacts. She was also present at the presentation I gave about Intersex some time ago to the Ally Network. My bet is that one day she'll become a Minister, like others I have gone to school or University with, like Malcolm Turnbull, or Tony Abbot. I wonder if she'll remember, when I'm 70 years old?

I'll be pursuing the passport issue through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, regardless of my personal ability to return. Someone's got to make a stand, and circumstances have given me a far better chance than anyone else. Much as I'd like a quiet life, looks like it's my turn on the firing line. So be it. I can't stand the thought of someone without my resources being stuck in a similar position. It was bad enough for me, after all.

Thursday, 3 August 2006

The Great Passport Fiasco : August 3rd Edition

Well, I've just received another phonecall from the case officer.

As expected, same answer, exactly. No.

At least it was quick. "Policy" ignored the new evidence, just quoted the book, that's it.

Next step : a letter to the Director of Passport Operations. The Case Officer was good enough to supply me the address without me even asking.

In this letter, I'll be doing two things. I'll submit my case (yet again), but I'll also make a formal demand for reasons for the previous adverse decision, in accordance with Section 13 of the Administrative Decisions(Judicial Review) Act 1977.

Reasons for decision may be obtained

(1) Where a person makes a decision to which this section applies, any person who is entitled to make an application to the Federal Court or the Federal Magistrates Court under section 5 in relation to the decision may, by notice in writing given to the person who made the decision, request him or her to furnish a statement in writing setting out the findings on material questions of fact, referring to the evidence or other material on which those findings were based and giving the reasons for the decision.

(2) Where such a request is made, the person who made the decision shall, subject to this section, as soon as practicable, and in any event within 28 days, after receiving the request, prepare the statement and furnish it to the person who made the request.
I really need to see the Postgraduate Student's Association Lawyer on this one too before I send it. Make sure everything's all squared away, legally.

And while I'm waiting to see him, a letter to the Commonwealth Ombudsman too.

There's still a few rungs on the ladder to go before we start going Fully Legal, but right now, that's the most likely option.

Yet more time wasted when I should be working on my PhD.

OK, here's the Draft letter. The final one I send may be quite different, but here goes. I've included URLs to the legislation involved for those interested in the legalities. Unlike the APO, whose Policy section appears not to be....

To :
The Director of Passport Operations
R.G.Casey building
John McEwen Crescent
Barton ACT 0221

From :
Zoe Ellen Brain
{Address Line 1}
{Address Line 2}

Re :
Rejected Passport Application

Dear Sir/Madam,

In accordance with ADMINISTRATIVE DECISIONS (JUDICIAL REVIEW) ACT 1977 - SECT 13 and the similar provisions in the ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS TRIBUNAL ACT 1975 - SECT 28, please furnish a statement in writing setting out the findings on material questions of fact, referring to the evidence or other material on which those findings were based, and giving the reasons for the decision not to grant my passport application.

I wish to draw to your attention the ADMINISTRATIVE DECISIONS (JUDICIAL REVIEW) ACT 1977 - SECT 5, paragraphs 1(e) and 2(f) stating that the exercise of a discretionary power in accordance with a rule or policy without regard to the merits of the particular case is an improper exercise of power.

I also wish to draw to your attention the AUSTRALIAN PASSPORTS ACT 2005 - SECT 7, stating that Australian Citizens are entitled to be issued with an Australian passport, provided only that the application is in accordance with the relevant forms and fee paid, and subject only to section 8 and exclusions from Division 2. The AUSTRALIAN PASSPORTS ACT 2005 - SECT 8, states that the Minister must be satisfied of the Identity of the person, and their status as an Australian Citizen before issuing a passport. Division 2 is not germane to the issue.

Finally, I wish to draw your attention to the consequences of any inability by the Minister to determine my Identity.

Firstly, that I am unable to be issued with any travel-related document whatsoever, because of the exclusion in AUSTRALIAN PASSPORTS ACT 2005 - SECT 10

Secondly, that lacking any travel-related document, and as an Australian Citizen unable to obtain a visa, I would be unable to re-enter Australia should I leave. An inability to prove Identity and Citizenship would cause me to be refused entry should I land here.

Thirdly, because I must shortly undertake medical treatment only available overseas, I will therefore be effectively exiled from my country of Citizenship as the result of this decision.

Yours Sincerely

Zoe Ellen Brain, BSc MInfoTech(Distinction)

Administrative Decisions Act 1977 Section 5 - applications for review

Administrative Decisions Act 1977 Section 13 - Reasons for decision

Passports Act 2005 Section Section 7 - Entitlement to passport

Passports Act 2005 Section Section 8 - Identity and Citizenship for Passport

Passports Act 2005 Section Section 10 - Identity for Travel Document

Passports Act 2005 Section 48 - "Refusal to issue" is a reviewable decision

Administrative Appeals Tribunal Act 1975 Section 28 - Reasons for decision

Wednesday, 2 August 2006

The Great Passport Fiasco : August 2nd Edition

It didn't start well.

I phoned my case officer, who'd just returned from Sick leave (and sounded like it).
He was totally courteous, but it didn't take mental telepathy to figure out that he just really, really, really wished he'd never been put in this position, with the Nightmare Client From Hell.

His tones were clipped, monotone, even curt. But under the circumstances, it would have taken someone Superhuman to be bright and cheerful. First day back, still feeling like Used Food, and who should call but the NCFH. I'd be peeved at the Universe too, wishing this unpleasant nuisance would just evaporate and stop making my life miserable. Nothing personal. And I must emphasise, his demeanour was always courteous and throughly professional. Just letting a bit of Humanity show through.

So I went in to the APO.. and this time, I got very quick service, no more long waits, looks like a lot of people had come back from sick leave (a nasty virus is just burning itself out here - I had the same thing awhile ago).

I also got another apology about yesterday's unfortunate events, from one of the counter staff. It really was just one of those things that sometimes happen, primary, secondary and tertiary backups momentarily called away to an impromptu meeting. Basically only a minor example of Murphy's Law, but the counter staff still felt the need to apologise. Such things happen everywhere, but they try to be a bit more professional than that.

She obviously felt as bad about it as I did, and that, oddly enough, made me feel better, which made her feel better, so all was well. Humans are funny creatures.

I was given a choice of who I wanted to see - the Office Manager, or my Case Officer. That was nice of them too, so I left it up to them. The Case Officer it was, the first time we'd ever met face-to-face.

I wasn't what he expected.

That was a middle-aged "Man", just starting transition, and worse, from the APO's viewpoint, trying to Rort the System and being thoroughly obnoxious. Only been on Hormones since about October, there'd be few visible changes.

Instead, there was a plain but utterly unremarkable woman, one who'd had a Bad Hair Day, just so incredibly vanilla and ordinary. Then she addressed him in a normal Contralto voice, the one he'd heard over the phone. Yes, this was Her. Him. Her. Oh HECK!

Again, it doesn't take a mind-reader. One of the many things I like about being myself at last is that Body Language is so obvious now.

So I showed the documentation. The very nice letter from my PhD supervisor that laid it on with a trowel, how overseas travel was neccessary to complete my PhD, that I'd be working on a project that could save lives, etc etc. Too bad I couldn't embed a MIDI of violins playing "Hearts and Flowers" into a paper document, it would have been appropriate.

Then a printout of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme webpage, showing code 1269T and what it meant.

Then the piece de resistance : the letter, with a nice friendly Australian Government - Medicare Australia letterhead. The one addressed to me, and confirming both my sex as F, and that I was being given treatment for 1269T, "Moderate to Severe Androgenisation of a non-pregnant woman".

I mentioned casually (HA!) a few things. That as far as I was concerned, I'd let DFAT and the Department of Health fight it out amongst themselves. I also mentioned that I'd retained my Security Clearance, the Defence Department were happy that they knew my Identity, it might be 2 against 1.

I also mentioned in passing, that on the subject of Clearances, I'd worked on the Australian Diplomatic Communications Network for DFAT, perhaps they could check their own records there.

I pointed to myself, and asked if there was any country in the world whose immigration officers would credit that I could have a valid passport for a 48 year old Male. Even when coming back to Australia, might it not cause just a few teeny problems? Especially when they cross-checked vs the Medicare Data?

The Case Officer rather apologetically pointed out that according to the Manual of Australian Passport Issue (MAPI) they couldn't change gender unless I'd had sex reassignment surgery (SRS).

I replied that according to this official Australian Government document, the only SRS I could have was... Female to Male.

His face fell.

He was convinced. So was the counter officer. She said
"So because you're an Australian citizen, you can't get a visa for your UK passport, and without an Australian passport, you can't re-enter the country. And if you weren't a Citizen, you could.
"That's right", I said, "I can't re-enter because I'm an Australian Citizen".
"When you say it like that.. that's really Crazy."

"Yes, it is, isn't it."

Well, the case officer is going to forward the additional documents up the chain of command, plus some sort of report I should imagine, pointing out the enormous potential for Egg On Face, Inter-Departmental Warfare, and if he has any nous, that the client concerned showed some determination and dogged persistence. She wasn't going to let this go. She couldn't - she had to go overseas soon for medical treatment. Her back was to the wall.

But from the worried look on his face, I don't think he expects any rational or sensible answer. Just a repeat : "No, Never, Under No Circumstances".

He did mention the possibility of a "Document of Identity", a kind of travel document that isn't a passport, but would allow re-entry. And it doesn't have the gender marked on. On it's own, nearly useless, most countries wouldn't accept it. But in conjunction with a UK passport to get me into other countries, a reasonable compromise.

It would solve the short-term problems, and if this is all they offer me, I'll take it alright. But I'll also start the appeals process going, and maybe we can get the Manual of Australian Passport Issue updated to the 21st century. You see, I have had legal advice (free) through the Postgraduate Students Association's tame Lawyer, and I know just exactly which law it's covered under - the ADMINISTRATIVE DECISIONS (JUDICIAL REVIEW) ACT 1977 - SECT 5 Subsections 1.e and the following from subsection 2:
(2) The reference in paragraph (1)(e) to an improper exercise of a power shall be construed as including a reference to:

(a) taking an irrelevant consideration into account in the exercise of a power;
What my Gender Was, as opposed to Is Now
(b) failing to take a relevant consideration into account in the exercise of a power;
The Medicare Australia letter showing that I'm female, and (what the heck, why not?) my UK passport likewise.
(c) an exercise of a power for a purpose other than a purpose for which the power is conferred;
The Australian Passports Act 2005 allows the obtaining of information for determining Identity and Citizenship. That's all. So the letter requiring the most personal and private gynacological medical data is beyond their authority.
(f) an exercise of a discretionary power in accordance with a rule or policy without regard to the merits of the particular case;
A lay-down Open Misere, I think, on this one. The Defence has always been "we must follow the MAPI, regardless". Well, not according to the Law they don't.
(g) an exercise of a power that is so unreasonable that no reasonable person could have so exercised the power;
I have yet to find anyone who believes the actions of the APO are reasonable. Not even people within the APO now.

Nothing is certain when it comes to Court. And I'd have to extract a decision in writing first, that might be tricky. But I'm happy that I have, not only a just case, but a winnable one, should it come to that.

And if they don't give me a full, 10-year passport, one marked "F", then we shall put it to the test.

Originally, the Manual of Australian Passport Issue's sections on Transsexuals were quite humane. They were the most humane they could be at the time they were drawn up, over 10 years ago, under the law as it stood. But now they have passed their "use by" date, and in conjunction with the laws since then, and (dare I say it), some less than sympathetic "Policy" decisions, have been used to oppress and humiliate Transsexuals and the Intersexed.

As one of the other PhD students remarked to me, "You're hoping they don't give it to you, aren't you?"

Well... not really. As long as I can get into the country without a problem. I'm no activist, and certainly no martyr to the cause.

OK, part of me is spoiling for a fight here. Because it's one I think I can win, and one where my rare medical condition may actually be useful in enabling reform.

But a bigger part of me just wants to be treated as a 2nd class citizen, and not a 3rd. 1st is too much to hope for in my lifetime, but eventually that, too. Me, I just want my passport, the one that the Australian Passports Act 2005 says is my legal right as an Australian Citizen.

It looks like I might be on 2XX Community radio on Wednesday, talking about this and other issues. You see, I'm a Wargamer from way back, and not the only one whose gender changed in the last decade. I had coffee with a woman I'd gamed against in years past, and she runs the regular 2XX "Q-Radio" programme. When I protested that I wasn't an Activist, she said "Yes you are. You're forced to be by the position you're in". And I had no good reply to that.

Changing perceived gender, I can handle. Had anyone told me 16 months ago that I would, I'd have said they were crazy of course. Impossible. But me, an Activist in The Cause? That is several light years beyond Impossible.

Oi Ve.

Tuesday, 1 August 2006

The Great Passport Fiasco : August 1st Edition

I turned up at the Australian Passport Office's Headquarters at the R.G.Casey building, all the documentation ready, prepared to make sure they got it by delivering it by my own fair hand.

After a 30 minute wait, "Oh your case officer isn't here today, he's on sick leave. I'll get the office manager."
After another 10 minutes "She's not here at the moment, she should be back in 15 minutes."
After another 15 minutes "Sorry, it looks like she's not coming back in today."

OK, so maybe they could photocopy the data, certify it as a true copy, and insert it in the file, for when someone who knew about the case was available.

Except they refused to accept it. You see, some of the medical data is classified, and officially marked as such because it comes from a Government Department. Not "Highly Protected", nor even "Protected", but merely "In Confidence", the lowest level there is. No-one was there who was cleared for it. Yeah, Right. I mean, this is the Head Office.

Could I come in tomorrow? Maybe there would be someone there then. But maybe not.

I left the building before I started to cry.

This round to DFAT.

That I've started to see it as an adversarial, rather than co-operative, relationship is sad, and I'll try to change my view. The trouble is, there's now a lot of evidence pointing to that, it's difficult to ignore it.

Ah well. I've just come back to the ANU, and after a good vent and a minor blub to a sympathetic colleague who's ex-DFAT, cleared it so I can go in every day for as long as neccessary, at least for the time I don't have teaching commitments, or medical appointments.

Lots of the latter: next one tomorrow at 1215, then a blood test, then off to Sydney to see the Prof next Tuesday.

I'm also logging - by blogging - the whole sorry mess, as it happens. Just in case I need to show somebody, say, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, that I've taken all reasonable, and some downright unreasonable, steps to remedy the situation.

This is not helping my PhD progress at all. But I need an Australian Passport to complete it (and yes, I have that in writing from my PhD supervisor), so this whole Farce has to be gone through.

It just seems all so...un-neccessary.