01 March 2006

I Swear, I'm gonna wear a strap-on to work tomorrow....

... and see if it doesn't increase my visibilty. Y'see, I'm been working on a project with a male co-worker, and despite that fact that we've pretty much split the design work and I've done the lion's share of the coding (while he was equally busy with database and hardware configuration), people keep approaching him to talk about the work. I don't mind when they talk to him about the database and hardware configuration (see above), but when it's about the overall product, the design, the code, the presentation, I start to feel a little bit ignored. This is a product I worked late in the evenings to deliver, I came in on weekends. He didn't. I usually just move in more closely and include myself in the discussion, assuming that I have something to contribute. I do.

After it had happened several times in a row this morning, however, I stood up and pointedly walked away. In retrospect, not only was the point missed, I lost some credibility by doing so. Clearly I wasn't interested in the product's future development.

And here's the rub: even though I recognise the sexism and my male co-worker has even started to notice the inequity, I haven't yet confronted it head on. I haven't spoken up boldly to each perpetrator and said, "Excuse me, you'll want to include me in this discussion."

Inside I'm frustrated and I'm angry and I just feel like crying like a woman.

19 February 2006

Damn Acorns

It's that time of year again, and the oak trees in Canberra are dropping their acorns. I crunch them while walking across the back patio. Occasionally I slip on the roly-poly hard round objects that dig uncomfortably into my bare feet. Oaks are only one of Australia's many imports, and, despite my inconvenience, one of the less pernicious ones.

The first year I moved here I thought the local oaks must have been mutants. I grew up in the middle of Long Island. Long Island's mature forest was dominated by oak. I can recall one white pine at the top of the block and a birch and a peach tree my parents had planted. We had a weeping willow that I climbed when I was four. I cried when it was cut down in my seventh year after an unfortunate storm caused one massive branch to dangerously overhang my neighbour's kitchen. Every other tree in my memory is an oak. And in spite of their overwhelming numbers, I knew I had never seen quite so many acorns as I did that day crossing the street to my mum-in-law's. Trying to maintain my balance across a lawn could have been injurious. The carpet of round hard acorns providing no traction.

It took me a while to realise that the missing ingredient in all this was squirrels. Upon my realisation, I suggested to Shane that Australia could import some, in the interest of public safety. He pointed out that foreign imports had often been disastrous. "What can go wrong? They're only squirrels," I protested feebly.

Indeed. Australia's history is filled with equally naive people importing flora and fauna that have some major evolutionary advantage and wind up completely filling a niche, ousting the former inhabitants of that niche and often damaging local habitats. Off the top of my head, I can easily think of half a dozen:
  • blackberries - one of twenty Australian Weeds of National Significance(WONS), blackberries were originally introduced into Australia as a horticultural plant. The tale goes that an itenerant hobo, desiring to be the Aussie Johnny Appleseed, spread blackberry seeds throughout Australia so the hungry traveller would always have a meal. The weed grows in dense thickets, reducing movement and the diversity of vegetation and wildlife habitat.

  • rabbits - You've probably seen "Rabbit-Proof Fence", a moving real life tale about three little girls who escape mandatory enculturation as part of the "stolen generation". They find their way home by tracing the rabbit-proof fence for 1500 miles.

    That Australia built more than 2000 miles (3200 km) of fence in toto is testimony to the recognition of rabbits as a serious pest. According to Wikipedia:
    rabbits are responsible for serious erosion problems as they eat native plants which would have retained soil. One eighth of all mammalian species, and many species of plants, in Australia are now extinct due in a large part to the rabbit infestation.
  • the cane toad - Sugar cane was introduced to Australia with the first fleet in 1788. Cane beetles and frenchie beetles probably came soon afterwards or were introduced as larvae with that first shipment. The Cane Toad (Bufo marinus) was introduced to Australia in 1935 in order to control these pests. Some of Australia's smarter predator animals, such as crows, have learned to eat the toads' soft bellies and avoid the poison sacs. Others are not so lucky, and cane toads have been responsible for poisoning, displacing and/or predating indigenous species. Oh, and by the way - they were completely ineffective against the beetles.

  • Patterson's curse - "Ooh, pretty!", I exclaimed the first time I saw the fields of purple flowers carpeting the otherwise drought-ridden valleys around Canberra's bushland. "Patterson's curse," was the reply. Intrigued that such a pretty plant could have such a negative name, I researched and found that Echium plantagineum is devastating because it is so successful in Australia's dry, mineral-poor topsoil that it will easily displace most difficult-to-grow cultivates.

    Ironically, where native vegetation is healthy and undisturbed, Patterson's is less successful. But Australia's soil is already degraded by human-related activities such as overgrazing and the introduction of rabbits.

    In addition, Patterson's contains alkaloids that taste sweet, but are deadly to livestock. The alkaloid quickly builds up to toxic quantities in horses' and cattle's livers and eventually cause death.

  • Indian Mynah birds, wild dogs, foxes and feral cats - the same old story. Extremely successful species displacing natives, generally by competition or predation.

And then of course, there's the most dangerous import of all: modern westernised H. sapiens. The impact of this species can include complete degradation of natural habitats, degraded water and air quality and most recently intense climate change. Finally, this is not simply an Australian problem. It remains a world-wide concern.

07 February 2006

Two Items, and Men, of Interest

A couple of items have caught my attention recently and I wanted to share them.

First, a new online friend, Adam Philips, whose flash animation cartoons are wonderful. His character, Bitey of Brackenwood, has been winning prizes. Well deserved, too!

Second, we saw Henry Rollins' spoken word tour the other night. I've seen him a number of times over the year, and what always impresses and encourages me is his focus. He owns his anger and uses it for momentum, for activism, etc. I, on the other hand, somehow transform all my anger into melancholy and it only serves to quiet me. There's definitely something in the way boys and girls are socialised that forces our hand later in life.

One thing that Henry talked about is that he's now a "person of interest" to Australia. He got a call from a fan who works with (I think it was) the Australian Federal Police, and his name had passed over her desk. Evidently, the guy next to him on the plane to Australia dobbed him in for reading the book Jihad, a book on the NY Times bestseller list, written by a journalist from The Wall Street Journal and published by Yale University Press.... Not exactly a "how to" manual.

It occured to me this morning that perhaps the guy was less ignorant than Henry (dis-)credited him for. Perhaps he was being malevolent. Maybe he correctly summed up Henry as a (small-l) liberal, who was attempting to understand the root causes of today's terror. And look: if terrorism can simply be attributed to evil people "who hate freedom", then wars and our own brand of state-sponsored terrorism are justified. If terrorism is instead understood to be a reaction to our long-term destructive foreign policies, then we have a responsibility to reduce the root causes by changing our behaviours. And that is truly a dangerous idea.

07 January 2006

This is the funniest thing I've read in a while


I was being too politic yesterday when I wrote "I don't know what to say about Ariel Sharon". I actually have this to say: for many years I considered him a war criminal and a hard-liner who stood in the way of peace. I don't think we can rewrite a man's life just because his policies may have changed in the 11th hour.

I'm convinced that any moves on Sharon's part towards peace (or, towards reconciliation with Palestinians, including conceding land, or towards whatever he thought he was doing which might not have had anything to do with peace) were due to pressure from the U.S. for the last couple of years.

And notice this: George Bush is not a peaceful man. If he was the initiator in any way, I truly believe it has something to do with some nefarious end game of his. Bush believes in Biblical prophecy, and for all I know, he's working to bring about his own version of Armageddon.

'Nuff said. I just wanted to be clear. I do believe a peson can redeem himself. I just don't believe that's what we've witnessed. Save the eulogy until he's passed away, for starters. And then, perhaps, save it for someone more deserving.

06 January 2006

A Rant

I really don't know what to say about Ariel Sharon and his declining health. I don't have much of anything to add to the already extensive discussion on Israeli / Palestine.

Personally, I support having two free democratic societies, side by side, supporting one another, helping each other, old emnities buried. Nothing else makes sense. And I'm frustrated that it seems such a lo-o-o-ng way off.

I take the long range view: I understand that given our short range myopias, peace can never break out: How can we trust them, they've hurt us thus far, they don't like us, they're not like us, the only good one is a dead one, etc etc. However, given a long range view, nothing but peace that makes sense for your grandchildren's grandchildren. You KNOW that the other side will still be around - face it, they've always been around. And it doesn't make sense for you to still be fighting them. Everyone should be able to eke out a comfortable and happy living from the land. Everyone should be safe within their homes, towns, cafes, movie theatres, schools and places of business. Likewise, everyone should be able to visit Jerusalem and access other places they consider holy.

My main concern in this world is: how do we heal it?

How do we heal the region in such as way that Israelis and Palestinians can sit together in peace? I think it comes down to healing individual by individual, and that can only start after we've stopped the bleeding. This means, stop oppressing each other, dammit. Stop blowing up people and stop invading people's towns. BOTH of you. Grow up, already.

There's simply no excuse for bad behaviour. And while I'm at it, that goes for the rest of you, too.

03 January 2006

Bad Science

"Pirates Cause Global Warming". According to Pasta-farians (see Wikipedia on Flying Spaghetti Monsterism), Global warming and other natural disasters are a direct consequence of the decline in the numbers of pirates since the 1800s.

Similarly, The Sydney Morning Herald printed an article today claiming that:
Having an abortion as a young woman raises the risk of developing later mental health problems - including depression, anxiety and drug and alcohol abuse - according to the most detailed long-term study to date into the divisive question.
Sorry. I can see one reason why having an abortion might lead to mental problems. I can see a few dozen reasons as to why having incipient mental problems (or physical problems that will eventually lead to mental problems, or social problems that will eventually lead to mental problems, or societal problems that will eventually lead to mental problems, or familial problems that will eventually lead to mental problems, etc.) could encourage a young woman to have an abortion.

The article stated:
At age 25, 42 per cent of those who had had an abortion had also experienced major depression at some stage during the previous four years - nearly double the rate of those who had never been pregnant and 35 per cent higher than those who had chosen to continue a pregnancy.
These numbers leads me to conclude that any woman who got pregnant had a 50% increased likelihood of depression than their peers. Should we discourage pregnancy as a way to avoid life experiences and the corresponding traumas?

Perhaps well-adjusted women practice birth control more successfully. Perhaps women in supportive nurturing famiies and relationships (who are, to some extent, spared mental illnesses due to nurturing environments) are more likely to keep their pregnancies to term.

The women were never interviewed as to why they got abortions or their attitudes toward abortions.

The researchers' intent was not political. However, a set of misunderstood results could be.

01 January 2006

Post Script (What a Difference a Day....)

The temperature outdoors reached 40 about an hour ago today, and with high winds, this means extreme fire danger. I thought the winds would bring a surcease to the heat, but rather than delivering a thunderstorm, they simply increase the change of random lightning. There is now a total fire ban in Canberra.

We haven't yet heard any news about local bushfires, but we can smell them. The sunlight is filtered through a almost imperceptible orange haze, giving that sensation of late afternoon long-shadowed light three hours early. We're about three suburbs in from high density tree populations, so we're most likely to be safe, but whatever lawns and footpaths surround our house are littered with last year's eucalypt leaves.

Shane's concerned. Tomorrow's his birthday and he's invited friends down to the river for a late afternoon swim and cool-off. Should bushfires occur out that way, we'll be in a heavily wooded valley, one that's been hit by fires before. Radio and phone cantact is limited at Uriarra. How will we keep abreast of the danger?

My fear is more direct and visceral. There is a river, so I think we can avoid direct contact with flames. I'm frightened (possibly childishly) by the possibility of a bushfire rolling right over the valley and sucking out all the oxygen.

I'll let you know how it goes.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Last night when we went to bed (4:39 AM, 1 January, 2006, Australian Eastern Daylight Time, GMT+11), the house had finally cooled down to a civilised 27 degrees. This morning, four hours later, it's back up to an uncomfortable 28 (80 and 82 F, for those who haven't shifted to metric). I'm struck by my subjectivity; that not only is such a slight difference even perceptable, but it can completely colour my mood. [Postscript: several more hours on, and it's reached "stinking hot", at 32C/90F. It could get even higher here, but it probably won't since it's gotten overcast. It's 3:15 PM which makes it 45 minutes to midnight in Buffalo, and the weather forecast there said 32F/0C. Light snow. Heaven.]

My Blog's been a "World of Warcraft Widow", as I've been off playing some game or another, and not keeping up with the world. Sorry for the lame excuse, because it's really much more than that. I don't write, and I know I don't write, because somewhere deep inside I have a broken view of the world, one in which I am not important, that no one wants to hear what I have to say. This is the mis-belief that keeps me from staying in touch with my relatives and my friends back home, all of whom I miss dearly. That is my deepest darkest secret, and one that I desperately hope no one else believes. And yet I allow myself to hold it, as if it were sacred. I allow myself to hold such a misguided view of the world, knowing full well that I would have a hissy fit if any of my friends (and probably even if any stranger I met) had such a low opinion of themselves.

And I wonder if the opposite is true, if whether I use this belief to "stay small". I'm reminded of the famous quote from Marianne Williamson (sometimes misattributed to Mandela):
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

My friend Chris tagged me with this meme a few days ago, and so I have to respond. Mine is a slightly shortened version:

Seven sevens

Seven Things To Do Before I Die
1. Continue to love Shane with all my heart
2. Fix the world
3. Paint
4. Learn another language
5. or two
6. Play drums
7. Travel: I want to visit Europe, and I'm dying to visit the arctic circle and see the Aurora Borealis.

Seven Things I Cannot Do
1. Run fast, run far.
2. Lose weight easily.
3. I can't yet play a good tremelo on violin.
4. Lose another friend.

Seven Things That Attract Me to…Blogging
1. I want to express myself.
2. I kinda need to express myself.

Seven Things I Say Most Often
1. I'm tired.
2. I don't matter (said internally).
3. Faux-baby language to my sweetie-dog. (Senga's full name is "Dog fo Senga". Can you spot the bad joke?)

Seven Books That I Love
1. Any of Stephen Jay Gould's. Caveat: his later work is a bit too florid for me and his earlier pieces occasionally have "dated" science (evolution is a quickly unfolding field! (pun intended)).
2. Guns Germs and Steel - Jared Diamond's summation of why history more or less unfolded the way it did. It had everything to do with the availability of domesticable plant and animal life in different regions as well as the much easier cability for technologies to spread along the east-west axis rather than north-south.
3. Pride and Prejudice. The detail of the interactions among players is gorgeous.
4. Undaunted Courage - the story of the Lewis and Clarke expedition. Despite what Ive been told are its failures, it showed me that I really like well-written history.
5. Maus - I read the first few installments of this book back when it was published in Raw and for me, it was my first real introduction to the power of comics. Previously, for me, comics were either superhero comics (yawn!) or immature (but titillating) Underground comix about dope and sex. Sure, I cut my teeth on them, but they were never art.

Seven Movies That I Watch Over and Over Again
1. Brazil
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3. Camelot
4. Fiddler on the Roof

Seven People I Want To Join In Too
1. Ingrid
2. John Buckley
3. Judy Clonan-Smith
4. My dad
Only one of these people has an online presence. And one has passed away.

Thanks for listening.