5×2: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and ACON

Today is our final day of 5 days of donations to support charities working with vulnerable communities during a health and economic crisis.

Our second last charity is the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre which provides a foodbank, legal aid, healthcare, and other services to refugees and people seeking asylum in Victoria. Their COVID-19 statement.

Many refugees and people seeking asylum are affected by poverty and lack of access to government resources (eg, some of ASRC’s community don’t have access to publicly funded healthcare). In addition, refugees and people seeking asylum often have experience of being detained (frequently by the Australian government) or having limited freedom of movement, and sometimes of infectious diseases spreading through their communities due to lack of healthcare or crowding or neglect. Social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine, widespread illness, etc, are things many are familiar with, often deliberately and cruelly inflicted, and this time is re-traumatising for them.

Founded 18 years ago, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) is Australia’s largest human rights organisation providing support to people seeking asylum.

We are an independent not-for-profit organisation whose programs support and empower people seeking asylum to maximise their own physical, mental and social well being.

We champion the rights of people seeking asylum and mobilise a community of compassion to create lasting social and policy change.

Take a tour of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre | ASRC

You can donate to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre online.

Our last charity is ACON, an Australian health organisation for LGBTQ people, founded for and focussing on people with HIV.

There have been other terrible global pandemics in our lifetime: 32 million people are thought to have died of AIDS to date, with hopes that only 500,000 people will die in 2020. That’s right, half a million deaths from AIDS in 2020 is the hoped for outcome.

And of course, since it’s an immunodeficiency disease, people with HIV are at higher risk from COVID-19, so the two collide. Here’s ACON’s COVID-19 statement, the impact of COVID-19 on people living with HIV in Australia does not yet seem well understood.

We are a fiercely proud community organisation. For our entire history, the work of ACON has been designed by and for our communities.

Established in 1985, our early years were defined by community coming together to respond to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in NSW, and we remain committed to ending HIV for everyone in our communities. We do this by delivering campaigns and programs to eliminate new HIV transmissions. Supporting people living with HIV to live healthy and connected lives remains core to our work.

As we have grown, we have been proud to work with a diverse range of people to ensure their voice and health needs are represented in the work we do.

Who We Are — ACON

You can donate to ACON online.

I’ve shared my family’s donations this week in order to inspire you to think about the hardest hit people in your communities, and in the world, as COVID-19’s health and economic implications bite. If you’re inspired to support one of these ten organisations they can all use a great deal of additional help, but I also encourage you to look around your own community, and around the world for organisations at the frontline of providing services to vulnerable people, and to support them.

5×2: news from the organisations

Several 5×2 organisations have been in touch to share their stories about what they and their communities are going through at this time:

We talked with folks from Médecins Sans Frontières Australia (MSF) (day 1) and YoungCare (day 3) on the phone yesterday. Both organisations are very very scared for their communities. MSF is in Italy and Greece right now assisting with COVID-19 care, and particularly advocating for the evacuation of refugee camps on the Greek Islands. They are having a lot of trouble moving their staff between countries to where they are needed. YoungCare is naturally deeply concerned for disabled Australians with high needs in coming weeks.

Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi Aboriginal Corporation (day 3) wrote:

Everyone here is worried about the impact on our vulnerable clients, many who have multiple health problems and are living in overcrowded inadequate housing or are homeless. Today we are arranging transport back home to Communities for some of our elderly and disabled clients and board members. There is a lot of fear so we are also doing as much as we can to source and create information in local languages, as well as personally keep key senior people up to date.

FoodCare Orange (day 2) wrote:

… such an unsure and concerning time for our community… As FoodCare receives no recurrent Government funding, this will certainly assist us to continue providing what we believe is a very needed service to those experiencing financial hardship.

5×2: UNICEF and Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council

Today is our fourth of 5 days of donations to support charities working with vulnerable communities during a health and economic crisis.

Today’s two charities are again driven by the interests of our children.

Our first child was keen to support children who are left without stable homes, or possibly families, by COVID-19. For this one we chose a large and well-known charity with a global footprint: UNICEF. They have a COVID-19 overview page.

UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation working to protect and improve the lives of every child in over 190 countries.

Promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. We protect and advocate for the rights of every child in Australia and overseas. We provide life-saving support and protection for children during emergencies and crises.

UNICEF Australia – United Nation’s Children’s Fund

You can donate to UNICEF’s Australian arm or donate to your local arm.

Our second child wanted to help Indigenous Australians, so in addition to yesterday’s donation to Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi Aboriginal Corporation, we have made a donation to The Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council, which is an Indigenous governed peak body for Aboriginal health services. They already have COVID-19 resources in place.

The Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council (AH&MRC) assists the Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHSs) across NSW to ensure they have access to an adequately resourced and skilled workforce to provide high-quality health care services for Aboriginal communities.

Who we are » Aboriginal Health & Medical Research Council of NSW

You can donate to AH&MRC online.

What groups around you are scared of the impacts of COVID-19 and associated economic shocks? Can you help them?

PSA: very few businesses can afford to keep paying their staff without revenue

Apologies for treading into a space where I’m just another tech worker writing a public service announcement in a field I’m not an expert in (economists, either ignore me or hit me with your best links), but for people imploring small and medium-sized businesses to continue paying their staff while closed for lockdowns (or while those staff are out caring for children): they almost certainly can’t afford to.

In stable-ish economic situations, you can regard employers as having a huge amount of economic power relative to workers, although it can collapse very quickly even then (Enron was a house of cards, but they went from being one of the most valuable companies in America to bankrupt in under a month).

But here’s the thing: most businesses, especially small ones, do not keep months of cash around. They keep weeks of cash, or in some cases (more than you’d think), days of cash around, and rely on a mixture of revenue and loans to make their outgoing payments. Even many very large businesses rely on short term loans to make payroll (this is actually one place where Enron got into trouble, when they couldn’t renew the lines of credit they used for things like payroll). Being able to afford to make payroll, even once, without revenue is very much the exception even for what you think of as a successful, enviable, business.

Similarly, with regards to “pay your cleaner!”, people will only keep paying their household staff to stay home until they themselves are laid off, and then they will need to stop doing that, because like businesses, most individuals, even very well paid ones, also do not keep months of cash on hand. And likewise at the point where layoffs reach wealthy individuals, they will stop being able to support their local cafes or artesans or small businesses and so on, in fact a lot of them will be in bad trouble immediately (because their mortgages are sized to their incomes).

I don’t have a good solution to this, we will need to trust in the economic and public health advisers to governments to draw the right lines between short term economic shocks to save lives from COVID-19, and major economic collapses. Definitely pay your cleaner and support charities if you can afford to. But businesses aren’t going to save us for more than a week or so: many businesses will need to initiate major layoffs or go into bankruptcy without either renewed revenues or a bailout in the next few weeks.

Edited to add: it’s also not very intuitive if your usual model of a business is that it is venture-backed, ie, it has access to a bunch of cash that it does not have to repay in the short term, but a large number of businesses use debt and lines of credit instead. In these cases, inability to meet interest payments may result in creditors immediately sending your business into bankruptcy or administration even if you did make payroll. Layoffs are almost certain to follow swiftly. Yes, creditors could be generous here, but they are themselves hurting and have upstream pressure from their own lenders, etc.

5×2: Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi and YoungCare

Today is our third of 5 days of donations to support charities working with vulnerable communities during a health and economic crisis. Today’s two charities are focused on two different communities in Australia.

Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi Aboriginal Corporation is an Indigenous women led organisation that works with people in the Central Desert region of Australia. They work with youth at risk of homelessness; with new families on basic supplies, nutrition and money management; and with elders on disability support. They facilitate art and culture traditions being passed between generations.

Waltja is a community based organisation that works with families from Central Desert indigenous communities to address major issues affecting their communities. Waltja’s work focuses on addressing the many gaps in service delivery for children, youth, elders and people with disabilities in the remote communities of Central Australia.

WALTJA | The Waltja Way

You can donate to Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi Aboriginal Corporation online.

Our second donation is to YoungCare, which provides housing for young people with high care needs including especially constructed housing, funding to live at home, and return to home funding. They’ve just had to postpone a major fundraising event due to COVID-19 risk.

Suitable and appropriate supported housing is one of the greatest areas of unmet need for people with disabilities in Australia. Currently, there are 12,000 young people being left behind in inappropriate housing simply because there is nowhere else for them to go.

The Issue – YoungCare

You can donate to YoungCare online.

In a global crisis, people without stable or suitable housing are hugely at risk: consider supporting these or other groups supporting particular communities at risk today.

5×2: FoodCare Orange and GiveDirectly

Today is our second of 5 days of donations to support charities working with vulnerable communities during a health and economic crisis. Today’s two choices are very local and very global.

A family member suggested donating to FoodCare Orange in my home town to support community members on low incomes.

FoodCare Orange is a not-for-profit social enterprise established in 2012. We provide individuals and families on low incomes access to affordable, fresh food, groceries and household items.

WHO WE ARE | foodcareorange

You can donate to FoodCare Orange via bank transfer.

Our second donation is to GiveDirectly, which does unrestricted cash transfers to members of extremely poor communities. This is an extension of the value in my introductory post that giving cash is the most flexible and useful type of donation; in this case the community members will choose how to spend the money.

We chose to split the money between GiveDirectly, and GiveDirectly Refugees.

We do not impose our preferences, or judgments, on the beneficiaries; instead we respect and empower them to make their own choices, elevating their voices in the global aid debate. This value is core to GiveDirectly’s identity as the first organization exclusively devoted to putting the poor in control of how aid money is spent. It comes at a potential cost, as it means that neither we nor donors get to set priorities (and we may even lose some “efficiency” in providing this option).

GiveDirectly Values | GiveDirectly

Australians looking to make a tax deductible donation can donate via Effective Altruism Australia (select “I would like to choose how to allocate my donation”). Alternatively, GiveDirectly is a US 501(c)3, and you can donate directly here.

Consider whether you’d like to donate to these or similar organisations to support vulnerable people during a global crisis. Also, consider a smaller, ongoing donation! Regular income is the lifeblood of charities.

5×2: Médecins Sans Frontières and The Haymarket Foundation

Today is our first of 5 days of donations to support charities working with vulnerable communities during a health and economic crisis. Today’s two choices are driven by the interests of our children.

Our first child wanted to help there be enough hospitals and enough equipment to treat sick people who need it as demand spikes. Given that the Australian medical system is pretty well resourced (no one really is in this context, but relatively), we decided to donate to Médecins Sans Frontières, who will no doubt be at the front line of COVID-19 outbreaks in war zones (there are reports of infections in Syria) and areas with natural disasters.

Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is an independent international medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, healthcare exclusion and natural or man-made disasters.

Médecins Sans Frontières Australia

Médecins Sans Frontières is an international organisation: you can donate to the Australian arm here, and you can donate to many international arms here.

Our second child was concerned about impact on homeless people, a group that is getting larger in Australia. Both children see people sleeping rough occasionally in our neighbourhood. We decided to donate to The Haymarket Foundation which provides crisis care in Sydney for homeless people, particularly active users of alcohol or drugs, and also provides intervention services aimed at newly homeless people.

We exist to provide opportunities to people who have been marginalised by society. We understand that the people we work with come from a background of complex trauma, and we use this understanding to advocate and deliver multidisciplinary services that are inclusive, safe, and offer freedom of choice.

The Foundation provides a safe place for people in crisis, supports people transitioning into long-term accommodation, and provides a range of supportive environments throughout each individual’s journey.

About – The Haymarket Foundation

You can donate here.

Remember, you don’t need to donate to our chosen organisations, although they could definitely use your help as well. There are many many vulnerable people who need help right now, and many organisations on the ground ready to help them today; decide on your values and give if you can.

5×2: support your community, it’s hurting and scared and it needs your help

Right now the world is facing two new threats: the first is a global pandemic which is spreading rapidly and which might kill 3% or more of people infected, particularly if it hits suddenly enough that there aren’t enough ICU or hospital beds (as has happened in Italy) and many many people go on to die both of COVID-19 and of other things that a hospital would normally be able to treat.

The other is major recessions or depressions following on from the partial shutdown of global trade and the near total shutdown of enormous numbers of industries including airlines, large events, catering, tourism, and manufacturing, and knock-on effects for many industries. This will also lead to many deaths from the consequences of stress and poverty; I haven’t seen a guess at all-cause mortality changes from COVID-19, but it’s surely much higher than direct deaths from the illness. And those who survive will need major support to rebuild their lives and work.

I definitely understand that at a time like this, it makes sense to have savings and be prepared for the future yourself, and I’m planning to, but it’s also a time when all crisis services will be incredibly stressed trying to deal with increasingly sick, increasingly poor, and increasingly scared people, and there is no better time to make sure they have the cash they need, and help them get ready.

My family has decided this week to support 10 charities (over 5 days, 5×2) that we expect need extra funds to deal with what’s coming, and I’m going to share them throughout the week, less to encourage donations to these specific charities as to encourage you to think about where you can give.

My entire family is part of the decision to give, so not all of the charities will meet these critieria, but here’s some I suggest and will apply to my share of our choices:

  • small and nimble, works directly with vulnerable people: an organisation that can turn your cash into a motel room and food parcel or a week’s rent for a member of their community in need is one that needs your money today and can use it in the next month to make a real difference to a person
  • “nothing about us without us”: guided and run by the people it is designed to serve
  • donate cash, not goods: cash can be turned into what someone needs right now, not what a donor thought they might need six weeks ago
  • donate to the organisation’s general funds, not any COVID-19 (or other) specific campaigns of theirs: their other work hasn’t stopped, they need to pay their staff more than ever, etc, trust them to know what their community needs

If you can’t give, you can help by supporting and encouraging your government and large, wealthy employers to provide for:

  • ample sick and carer’s leave for people who might need many weeks off work as COVID-19 roars through their family and friends
  • ample carer’s leave for people whose care services (daycare, school, respite, etc) get shut down
  • crisis payments and systems for people at risk of not making (particularly) rent or mortgage payments or being able to buy food
  • strong engagement with representatives of vulnerable populations about their needs
  • a solid welfare system

Australian childcare; a very partial wishlist

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

I was inspired by my baby suddenly being given a daycare place, and my ambivalence about placing her in daycare as a young baby, to remember all my frustrations with the Australian pre-school daycare system, and to suggest what, from my perspective, would be considerable improvements.

This is a very parent-focussed and rather pragmatic list; you’ll note I haven’t suggested nationalising daycare! I likewise have only very slightly spoken to cost issues, parents who have struggled to afford daycare, what’s your wishlist? For other perspectives, I’m looking forward to the Productivity Commission’s findings (although I doubt I’ll agree with much policy which the government builds on it, we’ll see), and I’d love to hear from people who can talk about the workers’ perspective, especially following the axing of the Early Years Quality Fund.

That said, here’s my “imperfect world” daycare wishlist:

Improve the ability of parents and guardians to plan

Two toddlers walking
Toddlers by madgerly@Flickr

Ideally, daycare places are guaranteed to children well in advance, coinciding with the end of their parents’ parental leave.

Presently, many daycare centres do not have immediate vacancies, especially for children under 24 months of age, who require a 1:4 carer to child ratio. They therefore maintain waiting lists. Parents do not know when their child is likely to reach the top of the waiting list, nor whether the waiting list even functions as it is assumed to. Parents list their child at every conceivable centre, sometimes without even an acknowledgment of receipt of their application (to this day, I do not know if my then-university’s daycare received my son’s application four years ago) and almost invariably without any ongoing contact beyond the approximately yearly “please confirm if your child still requires care” email. Parents may, at some future point, get a phone call saying that there’s a place available, by the way, enrol TODAY or it’s gone. Or they may not.

Centres in turn have no idea how long their list really is, or how many parents they will need to call to find a child still waiting for a place. They usually maintain their own private waiting lists. Most do not disclose either on their websites nor when acknowledging a waiting list application (if they do) how long recently enrolled children waited for a place, nor their policy for awarding places. Aside from the mandated priority for children in danger, followed by children of working parents, many, for understandable reasons, give priority to siblings of already enrolled children, for example, but they seldom disclose it.

Waiting lists are expensive with many centres charging $20 to $100+ to waitlist a child, and parents encouraged (by each other, by early childhood nurses, by employers) to waitlist at every conceivable centre if they want a place. Some centres are ethical in their handling of this — one discouraged me from waitlisting, disclosing that their lease was under review and they might be closing in 2015 — but many accept waitlist applications indefinitely even while informing parents who specifically ask that there are unlikely to ever be a place for their child.

There’s presumably some chicken-and-egg here: parents waitlist at as many centres as they can afford because they can’t tell whether any given centre will admit their child before they reach school age, but centres prefer that parents not waitlist at scores of centres because it makes it difficult to judge the real length of their waiting list and to fill vacancies, so they charge a fee to discourage the practice. But charging waitlist fees is not as good a solution to this problem as centralised, transparent waitlists would be, which would allow both centres and parents to plan.

It is an epic waste of everyone’s time. If we can’t have the ideal situation, it would be good to know (to within, say, two months) when a child will reach the top of waiting lists. Instead, what we have is essentially a black box.

I’ve often wondered about the employment issues arising from this, in that working families with children in daycare may not be able to move in search of better pay, conditions or advancement, due to inability to secure a daycare spot anywhere else within a reasonable timeframe.

I’d much prefer, if waitlist I must, to waitlist at a single central location for centres of my preference, have estimates of each of their waiting times and policies provided at the time I initially sign up, and regular updates sent. Imagine this for example:

Please select which centres you are wait listing for:

  • Centre A (2km from your workplace, 10km from your home, 15 children waitlisted, estimated date of vacancy January 2015)
  • Centre B (12km from your workplace, 1km from your home, 14 children waitlisted, estimated date of vacancy February 2015)
  • Centre C (5km from your workplace, 7km from your home, 5 children waitlisted, estimated date of vacancy September 2014)

The ability to plan might also prevent the enrolment of some young babies, like mine, because the parents would not be motivated to take an early offer of a place in case it’s the only one they’ll get in the foreseeable future. (My baby would likely have been enrolled in June or July, if I had an assured place, giving me less months of Michael Leunig feeling sorry for my baby. As it is, an April place is far better than a February one, Leunig, Mem Fox and Mia Freedman be damned.)

Make waiting lists transparent, impartial and fair

In addition, it’s unclear whether the waiting list is actually as effective way of getting a place as one would hope. In 2013, Andie Fox wrote in Daily Life:

I can’t do this, I complained to my mother, how can I go to work knowing my child is [at a poor quality centre]? She thought it would simply be a matter of choosing a better daycare centre and booking my child in. But it doesn’t work like that, I tried to tell her. You’re on waiting lists from the time you are pregnant and the lists are long and you wait hopefully for your turn. By now I knew of a care centre with a better reputation through my mother-friend network, but I wasn’t on their waiting list, I hadn’t realised there was such variation in quality when I had been pregnant.

My mother thought none of this should stop her and in the end it didn’t – she cajoled her way in and secured a place for my toddler in the better centre.

Andie and I discussed this in person a few weeks later: this is hidden knowledge. Most people put their name on the waiting list and try to be patient believing that their turn will come, that places will be awarded to the top name on the list, that if they have to wait 24 months at least everyone else does too. They don’t realise that there is a group of people who are charming their way into centres or otherwise jumping the queue.

And even if they do, they may not be able to join that group. I’ve been advised to do similar things. Book my child in for casual days, so that the staff can see we’re a “nice family”. (This is code: we’re privileged on most axes.) Ring the centre director first thing every Monday morning to “just check” how my waitlist place is up to. (I have to wonder about the likelihood that annoying them like this will work, but nevertheless I was advised to do this. I dislike phones enough to not have tried.) It’s not only hidden knowledge; it advantages people who have the money to pay for unneeded casual days, the privilege to look like a desirable family to centres when doing a child’s casual pickup or dropoff, or their cajoling visits; and the time needed to do all of this hidden work of both waitlisting themselves and ingratiating themselves with several centres.

In fairness to the centres, I should note that in the end both my children received daycare places without me doing this hidden work. My older child was offered an immediate nursery place in a centre that had vacancies, my younger child was offered a place from the waiting list (although I don’t know if we were given a boost up the list for any reason, I only know that I didn’t ask or work for one). But I had no way of knowing when or whether this was likely to happen, or of how many children were admitted earlier because their parents knew what to say to the director.

Support breastfeeding relationships

Because I work from home, and my baby’s daycare is very near my house, I am thrilled that I will be able to visit her for nursing sessions and plan to take advantage of this as much as possible. But only people whose children are in daycares at or very near their workplace can do this.

Daycare centres are not concentrated in business districts but in residential districts. This does have some benefits (not having to take the child on your commute, being able to use the centre even when you are too ill to work or otherwise at home for the day) but means that visiting to nurse a baby, or comfort a distressed child, or simply enjoy lunch together occasionally, is not possible.

In general, the geography of childcare centres seems very arbitrary and not designed to particularly suit any need.

Have stable fees

If you are eligible, childcare fees are reimbursed by the government in the form of the childcare benefit (means-tested) and the childcare rebate (not means-tested). The first fluctuates when you update your income estimate with Centrelink (this happens automatically at the beginning of each financial year, with Centrelink assuming you get a small raise unless you manually edit it), the second is capped at $7500 per year, having the effect that if you spend your $7500 before the end of the financial year, it cuts off suddenly and causes daycare fees to suddenly effectively double. The ability of affected people to project the extra expenditure towards the end of the year and plan and save for it varies, to put it mildly. (It’s possible to be paid this in arrears at the end of the quarter or the year, and the latter means the fees are stable, but the number of people who can afford to defer a payment of $7500 into the following financial year is even smaller.)

The entire benefit system for childcare is complex and arbitrary. Obviously I am hoping the Productivity Commission’s findings and any resulting changes to childcare payments don’t massively increase my personal or anyone else’s out-of-pocket, but a change where I pay roughly the same amount each week would be welcomed.

Sunday spam: porridge and honey

What is cultural appropriation?

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

Aircraft Carriers in Space

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

“I’m not like the other girls.”

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

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

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

The Start-to-Hate Review System

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

An Investigation Into Xinjiang’s Growing Swarm of Great Gerbils

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

Mariana Trench Explosion

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

Do bicycle helmets reduce head injuries?

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

Anyway, this one: A new study reports the rate of hospitalisations for cycling-related head injuries in NSW has fallen markedly and consistently since 1990. The authors say it’s due to helmets and infrastructure.
The drugs don’t work: a modern medical scandal and Ben Goldacre: ‘It’s appalling … like phone hacking or MPs’ expenses’

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

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

Going blind? DRM will dim your world

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

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

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

5 Plans to Head Off the Apophis Killer Asteroid

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

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

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