Sunday spam: French toast with bacon

The Myth of Looming Female Dominance

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

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

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

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

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

Tribalism and locavorism

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

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

Dating to the 2010 Winter Olympics.

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

The foibles of flexibility

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

Am I Black Enough For You?

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

We’re not here for your inspiration

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

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

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

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

Sunday Spam: crepes and maple syrup

As just fed to my son, in fact.

The execution of Troy Davis and the death penalty

I donated to the Innocence Project and the (US) National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, for what it’s worth.

Fukushima Disaster: It’s Not Over Yet

The impact of both radiation and fear of radiation on Japanese society, although it feels a little shallow. I’d love to read this argument from the perspective of a Japanese person.

Debunking the Cul-de-Sac

Struggles to come up with anything nice to say about cul-de-sacs, frankly, unless you are in the business of selling either cars or fuel for them. Oh, they’re quieter. Other than that, cul-de-sacs suck.

Queen of the Kitchen

A Christmas-time fairy story by Karen Healey. So you know it’s got a tough-minded teen girl, New Zealand, and magic. Several of my favourite things.

Chemotherapy doesn’t work? Not so fast…

Science Based Medicine reviews the real position of chemotherapy. It works as the primary treatment for a fairly small number of cancers, it doesn’t work much at all for some cancers, and much of the time it is part of several treatments (radiotherapy, surgery).

On Feminism and Virtue

Sady Doyle reflects on the extent to which being a feminist makes you a better person: potentially not much.

The Great American Bubble Machine

Goldman Sachs: always there to turn a functioning market into a speculative bubble, and thence to profit. Highlights include 100 million people entering hunger in 2007 due to speculation on food and oil futures. This was via Tim O’Reilly, who went down to the Occupy Wall Street protests because even rich small-government types do (or ought to) have a beef against Wall Street.

Disability Culture meets Euthanasia Culture: Lessons from my cat

On the normalisation of euthanasia in animals, to the point where vets can’t advise on what death of natural causes is like, and its relationship to euthanisa in humans. I was thinking about this issue over the last few years, most recently after a vet euthenised my parents’ elderly pet horse after what my father, who works in the meat industry and has seen hundreds if not thousands of animals die—and some seriously negligent treatment of animals for that matter—described as the worst suffering he’d ever seen. So, I don’t have a lot to say about Tony’s death, but it did make me think about how animals die.

Certificates and “authorities”

The certificates that identify websites for secure web browsing, that is. Basically, it’s a mess. There are about 400 organisations that are trusted by browsers to sign the identities of secure websites, they get hacked quite a bit, and some of them are careless at best about security.

Movin’ Meat: Instinct vs Expertise

An ER doctor puzzles over why a neurosurgeon isn’t taking a certain fracture seriously. Unlike a lot of stuff I link here, this is less about systemic concerns and more just an interesting story.

The iPad, the Kindle, and the future of books

From early last year, more in my attempt to understand publisher perspectives on ebooks. I’m in an interesting place on this, reading both in the open source/copyright reform world which tends to accept and embrace the tendency of the sale value of intellectual property to fall to zero or nearly so once distribution is cheap (see for example Copyfight on ebook prices rising), and librarians, publishers and authors who aren’t so hot on that happening to books.

Anyway, now I know what the agency model is.

Do We Need A New Nirvana? Does Modern Music Suck?

Joel Connolly (my brother-in-law, and a band manager) thinks audiences need to wise up to existing awesome music, basically. It’s a longer version of what he said to Bernard Zuel early in the month.

Above reproach: why do we never question fidelity?

I like this style of inquiry. Basically, the question is that everyone agrees that infidelity (not having multiple partners, but having multiple partners without being honest about it) is unethical. But should we? Is this sometimes part of oppression?

Every so often, asking these questions of human relationships is important. (Note that the writer, also, doesn’t have an answer.)

Increasing Barriers to College Attendance Through ‘Optional’ Extracurriculars

Something I’ve wondered about for ages, as Australian universities, which largely admit students based on pure academic performance, are constantly criticised for not moving to the US model, which takes into account the whole person, yadda yadda. As long as the whole person has time in their life for charity work, sports teams, student politics etc. To me, US college applications often sound like high schoolers applying for a Rhodes scholarship straight out of school. Not that raw exam scores don’t incorporate endless privilege, but extracurriculars do not in any way ameliorate that.

Sunday Spam: scrambled eggs and pesto

I have Instapaper now! Which means I read more stuff. Which means that every so often I will share things with you. On Sundays, sometimes.

This week is biased towards American stuff, because Instapaper’s Browse page tends towards longer stuff from The New Yorker, The Atlantic and so on.

On the Overton window : Thoughts from Kansas

This is one post in a series of discussions among skeptics about whether they should apply skepticism to evaluating their own outreach (see Skepticism means caring about evidence for the main thrust of that). This is an interesting side-note, which is that the Overton window, which is often cited casually by at least some of my activist friends, is not actually a very rigorous or reliable phenomena. (The idea of the Overton window is that the existence of radical voices helps establish a moderate version of the radical’s position by including that radical position in the window of visible opinion.)

Domestic aviation and a carbon price

Robert Merkel sketches out some sums suggesting that on various models, pricing carbon and other climate effects into Australian domestic air travel still makes flying cheaper than high speed rail between Sydney and Melbourne.

Can the Middle Class Be Saved?

Don Peck in The Atlantic on the growing gap between the upper-middle (or “professional middle”) and upper-class of Americans (the top 15% or so) and the rest of the middle-class, particularly the non-college educated. Has some interesting observations on gender too, namely that while service and caring jobs are growing in number and manufacturing and construction shrinking, men are not making the switch to the growing fields.

The Youth Unemployment Bomb

More typical Instapaper Browse fodder, this time from Business Week. Revolutions, unrest, and un(der)employed, highly educated, young adults.

Open Source Report: Is Defective by Design getting any traction at all?

An older link I was sent earlier this year as part of a discussion about geeks wanting to make sure their activism makes sense to people who aren’t already converts. It’s criticising the Free Software Foundation’s Defective By Design campaign.

The Attempt to Understand Puerperal Fever in the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries: The Influence of Inflammation Theory

I dug this up after a discussion about the process of discovering that puerperal fever could be greatly reduced by birth attendants washing their hands before attending. This is an overview of the eighteenth and nineteenth century theorising about what caused puerperal fever, namely a tension between inflammation theory (a theory that blood was pooling in some part of the body, setting off a general inflammation chain-reaction and requiring blood-letting) and putrid theory, that the body had been poisoned by some external matter and the fever was either the result of this poison or an attempt to throw it off (this theory regarded bloodletting as harmful and focussed on protecting the post-partum woman from breathing fresh air, in many cases).

The interesting thing here, not directly addressed in this link, is that the sheer disgustingness of dissecting corpses and not washing your hands before attending a childbirth is only obvious to us because of germ theory. In fact, regular hand-washing as etiquette is really an artefact of that (see also Karl Schroeder on science-informed etiquette this week). Sometimes the puerperal fever sequence is portrayed as if man-midwives must have been actively callous or hateful to not be washing their hands: in fact, it’s (more?) that they entirely lacked any theoretical framework for believing that what you touched half an hour ago had any serious impact on what you were touching now.

Was Aaron Swartz Stealing? I haven’t been following closely, so this was a good overview from a point of view a little closer to my own perspective on copyright than US governments.

I was pleased to come across this, again via Browse, because previously I’d only read the indictment text.

Endangered Sunday: grey nurse shark

This article originally appeared on Hoyden About Town.

I’m hoping to blog a little about SCUBA diving here occasionally. I dived on Wed December 29 for the first time in a year and a half (diving is contraindicated in pregnancy and was practically difficult with a young baby to care for and a body rearranging itself too often for a wetsuit fitting).

How did I elect to return to diving? Shark diving!

This is much less adventurous than it sounds, although definitely stressful or impossible for people with a shark phobia. (I’ve also dived with sea snakes—which are, yes, very very venomous, and quite inquisitive and tame so you get very near them, but they’re not aggressive at all—just don’t ever make me touch a slug in the garden because that is my critter limit!)

I’ve been in the water with a lot of sharks: leopard sharks, wobbegongs, Port Jackson sharks, grey and white tipped reef sharks and grey nurse sharks. This isn’t done in cages as you see with great whites, we’re in the ocean together. The trick is the size of the mouth: if a human limb doesn’t fit in there, there’s not much of a problem. Most species of shark are after much smaller prey than humans, the main exceptions are species that hunt seals. It’s also good to know that sharks generally sleep during the day (Port Jackson sharks look like very large cuddly toys, sleeping on the seafloor), and that they find the loud noise of SCUBA rather intimidating, although I have also dived at night when the reef sharks were hunting, but again, their prey is small. (Diving at night, also not as difficult as it sounds, but extremely cool.) I’ve also dived with seals, there’s a fairly simple rule for that, which is that if you notice none of the seals are in the water, you probably ought to follow their example and get out too.

What’s a scary thing I’ve encountered diving? That dreaded apex predator homo sapiens. I was not pleased to find that I’d been diving in murky water below people spearfishing one time. I hope they could see me better than I could see them.

Homo sapiens is of course the big threat to today’s Endangered Sunday species, the grey nurse shark or carcharias taurus. These are big, scary looking sharks (adults are between 2 and 3 metres in length), and if I wanted to impress you with my shark braving skills, I could show you this:

Dentition of a Grey Nurse Shark
Grey Nurse Shark, Dentition of a Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus). Magic Point, Maroubra, NSW, by Richard Ling, CC BY-NC-SA

Image description: a grey nurse shark is seen from in front and below, its head and fins lit from below, emphasising the teeth visible in its jaws.

Grey nurse sharks are quite timid, docile sharks. There’s a group living in a cave just off Magic Point at the south end of Maroubra at a depth easily accessible to recreational SCUBA divers. It is a very popular site with divers in Sydney. On the 29th there were five sharks in the cave. We didn’t join them: the cave is a protected habitat. It’s not quite up there with Michael McFadyen’s 2008 sighting of 26 sharks, but more than I’ve seen there on the six or so times I’ve dived the site.

The grey nurse shark is listed as critically endangered on the east coast of Australia, with the population estimated at somewhere around 1000 individuals. In 2009 it was reported (the original article is Ahonen et al. (2009)) that there is also low genetic variability on the east coast and that it likely does not interbreed with the west coast sharks .

Grey nurse sharks are ovoviviparous: they give birth to live young (-viviparous), which have grown inside eggs (ovo-) and hatched inside the mother. The two shark pups a female births are the result of adelphophagy: pre-birth cannibalism. Each of the surviving shark pups has consumed its siblings until it was the sole surviving pup in its uterus (of which the mother has two). This process takes up to a year and results in a reproductive rate that means the return from critically endangered levels is going be slow if it happens at all. There is some research into an artificial environment for the sharks to mature to birth size in. These environments have been successfully tested on dwarf wobbegongs.

Here are two more pictures of grey nurse sharks taken at Magic Point. Doug Anderson took these lovely shots of, I think, the sharks in the cave (the angle isn’t quite wide enough to tell on these two):

carcharias taurus, Maroubra, Sydney by Doug Anderson, CC BY-NC
carcharias taurus, Maroubra, Sydney by Doug Anderson, CC BY-NC

Image description: a large and a small grey nurse shark, close to the bottom of the ocean, side on to the camera. A school of fish is in the foreground.

carcharias taurus, Maroubra, Sydney, by Doug Anderson, CC BY-NC
carcharias taurus, Maroubra, Sydney, by Doug Anderson, CC BY-NC

Image description: four grey nurse sharks are clearly seen side-on between one and three metres above the ocean floor. The outlines of two more sharks are in the background, in dim light, presumably in the cave.

Both Doug Anderson and Richard Ling have shots of the sharks with hooks in their mouths: not happy and A Grey Nurse Shark (Carcharias taurus) with hook and exit wound in the jaw.

So there you have it, big, scary looking but not dangerous: a perfect diver’s day out. May their numbers continue to increase and the number of hooks and wounds seen in their jaws fall.

Ahonen et al. (2009) Nuclear and mitochondrial DNA reveals isolation of imperilled grey nurse shark populations (Carcharias taurus) in Molecular Ecology Volume 18, Issue 21, pages 4409–4421, doi:10.1111/j.1365-294X.2009.04377.x)