tales from urban dilettantia


Western Australia: State Election 2013

I’ll update and re-run the whole Election How-To  series for the Australian Federal Election later in the year, but for now here’s a quick roundup for the Western Australian State Election:

Western Australian Electoral Commission has lots of information for you: the candidates, the polling places, the district and regional profiles, the inquiry hotline, early voting, social media coverage and more.

There’s a good overview up at the Wikipedia entry for the election.

And, as ever, the ABC are doing a sterling job over at their election site, with all the data, election calculators, candidate profiles, boundary redistributions, and – most importantly – the divine Mr Antony Green.

Finally, my FAQ published for previous elections is still broadly relevant.

Western Australian elections make me cranky (see: odds from SportsBet) so I shall now return to my regularly scheduled, obviously non-partisan, activity of Making A Troy Buswell Action Figure.  I just need some glue for the hair.


I don’t think I’ve ever written a body politics piece here before, and certainly not one about my personal experience of body shaming. It isn’t my area of expertise, and I’ve noticed that writing body politics posts tends to end with one’s entrails smeared across the wall. My somewhat narrow view of human attractiveness suggests that having one’s entrails smeared across the wall isn’t a good look.  Nevertheless, let us start bluntly.

This year, I lost ten kilograms.

(I wonder what you thought when you read that? That’s so unhealthy. That’s so healthy.  Go you. For fuck’s sake, how uninteresting. Something else?)

Backstory: this year I took up rock climbing. It transformed my social life, my experience of the outdoor world, and my body. It stripped a layer of fat from my body and put on wiry muscle where I’d never had muscle before.  I’m as strong and fit as I’ve ever been. I can climb a tree, swing from one arm if only for a brief moment, and I’m on my way to doing the first chin-up I’ve ever done. I find myself liking my physical form for what it does, rather than what it is.

But here’s the thing.  Many of you haven’t seen me in person, so you won’t know what I look like.  Perhaps you’re imagining someone around average size dropping ten kilograms.

In fact, I’m five foot four. I’m very lightly built. I have tiny wrists and hands and ankles.  A year ago, I was an Australian size ten – the second smallest size one can generally buy. Today, I’m at the lower end of a size eight. I am skinny.

Culturally, I have the mammoth privilege that comes with being thin. Cheap, pretty clothes. Doctors diagnosing my illnesses, rather than telling me the only problem is my weight. Tiny airline seats fitting me. Hell, this year I’ve found I can shop in the children’s section. And most significantly, I’m not on the receiving end of widespread bigotry and condemnation.

Great. I know how fortunate I am, to the extent that anyone in such a position of privilege can ever truly know such a thing. And so, when I talk about being on the receiving end of body shaming, I want to be absolutely clear that I’m not dismissing my privilege. Shaming someone for thinness is not ‘exactly the same’ as shaming someone for not being thin. That’s bullshit. It is not equivalent.

However, there’s a belief that feeds discrimination, and a behaviour that heartbreakingly crops up from time to time even in my most feminist of social circles. It’s the belief that it is acceptable to pass judgement on my shape. On anyone’s shape. Boobs and thighs, belly, arse, ribs are all fair game for comment and criticism.

Too often I’ve seen people – feminists, activists, smart and caring people in almost every way they can be – point at pictures of skinny women’s bodies and decry them as ‘Horrible’. ‘Ugly’. ‘Disgusting’. ‘Urgh’. ‘Needs to eat a cheeseburger’. Bodies just like mine.

I may be as privileged as hell, and may not generally be on the receiving end of a cultural barrage of crap because of my body shape, but you know what? I am not okay with you posting pictures of women who look like me and commenting on how hideous they are. It is absolutely unacceptable.

The enormity of the social problems we face when it comes to physical form is beyond overstatement. We exclusively, pathologically market our clothes as displayed on the bodies of women far to one end of the bell curve. We objectify and idealise a single shape amongst the multitudes. We encourage self-loathing and self-harm. We are the architects of a society of shame.

Now, when those of you who really ought to know better post a picture of a woman’s body – of anyone’s body – and tell me it’s disgusting, you’re promoting the acceptability of linking physical form and shame. I’d like to say my feelings aren’t hurt when I see you saying my shape is wrong, but that wouldn’t be true. It is always going to be personal, just as it is always going to be political.  And, besides, it doesn’t help fix a single thing.  It simply reinforces the insidious idea that there is a ‘right shape’ and a there is a ‘wrong shape’.

I’m not wrong. I’m not ugly. I do not have an eating disorder.  I’m not sick or vain or brainwashed or setting a bad example. I’m just me, a rock climbing, skinny bitch.

To shame the body of another human being is to perpetuate the behaviour that feeds discrimination and self-loathing. But beyond that, it plunders you – our best and brightest, our feminists, our activists, our fighters. There are so many battles to be fought in this arena – battles around education, agriculture, advertisting, poverty, bad science, mental health, and the way we define spaces – both public and private.  So, wake up.  Give up the pointing and the shaming.  Instead, choose your battles wisely, and fight well.

Swinging on the Spiral

“I’ve been asking people around me to write about personal positives in their life, the way they make a difference in their own way, as part of their daily experience of living in the world. Now it is my turn to share with you about my life and how I try to make a difference. Where I spend the most time, energy and effort in making a difference entirely revolves around love.” – Jaunita Landésse, setting the agenda for the 51st Down Under Feminists’ Carnival.

It is interesting that I’ve been invited to write about the way I make a difference in the world in a week where I’ve been struggling to even co-exist with the world. After many hours of begging my brain to think-think-think, I decided that the best way to address the subject was to take the scope above and to fill in the gap in this sentence:

‘Where I spend the most time, energy and effort in making a difference entirely revolves around _____.’

And when I did this, I found my answer.

Curiosity. That’s me.

It is perhaps more evident that curiosity drives my inner world, than it is that it drives the outer. I’m a life-long learner, a researcher, a dilettante who hyperbolicly claims she’ll try anything twice, an adventuress, an analyst and a woman who describes herself as ‘interested in everything’. (That’s a lie; I’m not in the least interested in Rugby League.)

If you’ve visited this blog in the past, you’ll have seen that it’s quite the jumble of things. Specific topics (cycling, politics, statistics, happiness, art, polyamory), a repository for my lists of hundreds of interesting Wikipedia articles, and tales of local history that I’ve spent hours and days and weeks researching just for the love of researching. If I have one defining characteristic that has not changed in the least over the past three decades (if you ask my Mum, I expect she’ll tell you I was a most curious baby) it’s overwhelming, unconquerable, fervent curiosity.

How, then, does this curiosity make a difference beyond my internal world? If you’ve had a conversation with me about something that excites me, you’ve probably noticed that (a) I talk really, really fast, and (b) that I love to share the knowledge grown out of the seed of an initial fascination. While it’s hard to gauge a degree of influence, many people – at work, at home, here on the internet – have mirrored my enthusiasm and have taken the time to tell me they’ve appreciated the sharing of my interests. An even better indicator, I think, is that people often go on to send me links, books, thoughts and pieces of news related to a discussion we’ve had, long after the initial conversation. We go on to listen and learn together.

I am most certain that the infectiousness of curiosity makes a difference in the world, as does the distribution of learning. I’ve learned this not from my experience as a giver of curiosity, so much as being on the receiving side of similar excitement from others who share this passion. Their curiosity feeds mine, plants new seeds and ideas, travels off in random directions, and iteratively feeds back into their wonder and awe as it returns. To learn for the joy of learning, to discover for the joy of discovering, to chase trails, to unwrap stories and to adventure on – these are the ways I write my own story and make meaning in my world, and perhaps too, in the worlds of others.

Now, wonder and awe are magnificent things, but has occurred to me as I write that curiosity also makes a difference in a more intimate way. It brings difference into the world because I’m interested in you.

I truly want to understand what makes you happy, what makes you sad, why you do what you do, what you think, how you feel, how you think, what enchants you, what enamours you, where you come from, your stories, how you’re just like me, how you’re utterly unlike me, and how you occupy and interact with your world. And I think, again from being on the receiving end rather than the giving, that it does make a small, warming difference to meet someone who is curious about you. It is good to, in that moment, know you are an interesting creature. And so, in a tiny, intimate way, I can give you the gift of my curiosity and all that entails, and likewise, if you too are interested, you can give that gift to me.

Curiosity has become more than a personality trait. More than an instinct, a proclivity or a habit, all these though it has been. But beyond them, it has become a guiding philosophy; it is my self-determined raison d’être and my maker of meaning, in a universe where I perceive no other meaning than that I create.

As Jaunita lives to love, I live to discover.

Spiralling out, keeping going. That’s the person I want to be.


Spiral - Sculptures by the Sea

With a loving nod to Cary, comrade in philomathy. Lateralus is your song.

Of Maps and Murder

Once upon a time, this particular time being the night of 26th of June 1936, or perhaps the early morning of the 27th, Henry William Griffiths of Maylands kills his family one by one, with fishing line and an axe. Then he half fills the bath and locked the bathroom door. Finally, he tidily sits down in the water still wearing his pants, shoes and socks, and cuts his own throat.

The newspapers of the day provide detailed coverage,  both in the aftermath of the discovery, and following the inquest.  The journalists at The Mirror supply a wealth of particularly heart-wrenching details, publishing photographs of boggle-eyed children staring at the Griffiths house (‘kiddies gaze at house of awful tragedy’), the Griffiths’ toddler (‘bonny kiddie murdered today’), and the family dog (‘the only one left’).  (I am later unsurprised to see the long-defunct Mirror described as ‘the “scandal sheet” of its day, dealing with “juicy” divorce cases and the like.‘)

34 Wellington Street, 1936

Various acquaintances assure the press that Henry and Kathleen were a happy couple, adored their children, gave no clue at all that anything was wrong. (People tell the right lies after a death, and apparently even more of the right lies after four.) But of course, it all comes out at the inquest. Henry had spent time in Heathcote Mental Hospital. He was reportedly convinced the CIB and Taxation Department were recording his conversations, that the Government thought he was an international spy, and that his wife (who tactfully told people he was ‘worried about business matters’) had been conspiring against him.

The family publish death notices in the papers . Many of the notices are loving, even of Henry. They bury Henry and Kathleen side by side in Karrakatta Cemetery, one of their sons with each of them.

It is June 2012. I am at the cemetery. It is a damp, grey day and the section numbering on the map isn’t matching the numbering in my notes. I wander around lost for an hour and a half before I find them.  I’ve brought flowers with me, and I stay to weed the plot.  Afterwards, I travel the two suburbs north to see the house, and return to take a photograph on a bright sunny afternoon some months later.


I first come across this story while idly browsing Trove, and nearly pass on by, but for a peculiar inconsistency. The papers give the address as Wellington Street in Maylands, and one goes so far as to give the house number, 34. Curious to see whether the house has been swallowed up in the suburb’s inexorable gentrification, I pull up the address on Google Maps’ Street View.

Or rather, I try. There’s no such street. I poke around the obvious places first – councils, government, the old Road Board – but there’s nothing online indicating the street ever existed, no record of it being renamed.  Suddenly, I’m interested enough not to let this one go.

To trace this story back to its beginning, I need a different approach; to go back to someone, something, a source that that recognises the address. I need to find something capable of pulling up memories of web of streets eighty years gone.  The answer, it seems, is in the very place I found the story. The newspapers of the time hold knowledge; each birth and death, each celebration and each crime, each council decision, each wedding, each story worth a scattering of words. And, because Trove – by its nature – knows everything the newspapers know, I go foraging amongst its memories.

Slowly, from advertisments, stories and random fragments, the area around Wellington Street begins to resolve. Wellington Street near Beaufort Street. Wellington Street intersecting with York Street. Wellington Street on the route of the long-gone #18 tram. Trams.  I visit the State Library at lunch to check some books on history of Perth’s tramways, quite certain at this point that at least one of them will have a useful map. No luck. Tram enthusiasts and local history websites likewise yield nothing. One last roll; Google’s Image Search. And there, a photograph of a heritage map displayed in the East Perth Train Station – a map showing the tramlines. It’s too small to make out the street names and I’m ready to make the trip over to East Perth to look for myself, but I don’t need to – a little more digging, and I’m looking at a high resolution version on Flickr. Formerly Wellington Street. Now the last block of Stuart Street in Bayswater.

Much closer, I track up and down the block in Street View. I think I’ve found the house a couple of times, and then wonder if it was demolished to make the small park nearby. I don’t realise yet that I’m largely focusing on the wrong side of the road. This isn’t going to work; finding a house that looks a little like the right house isn’t enough.  One workers’ cottage looks rather too like another workers’ cottage.

Helpful as the internet has been, this is something more specialised. This is the State Library’s moment. I search the catalogue and find that the library holds a collection of aperture cards showing local real estate developers’ promotional plans from around 1890 to 1940. At this point, I don’t even know what an apeture card is. I ask at the desk and the woman looks surprised and takes out a shoebox-sized container  from underneath the desk.  In the shoebox is their entire collection.

The aperture cards are frustrating. Well actually, they’re fascinating, but none of them quite hit the geographic area I’m chasing. I check and double-check all of the cards for Maylands, Mount Lawley, Falkirk, Inglewood and Bayswater. Just before closing time, I zoom in a little harder on a particularly detailed image I’d bypassed the first time around, and there it is. Wellington Street. Numbered lots, even. Numbered lots with boundaries matching those I can see on Google Maps.

So it is that I learn Wellington Street has become the western extension of Stuart Street, and that number 34 has become number 108. I compare the photographs from 1936 to the image from Street View. There have been some changes over time, but it’s the house.


formerly 34 Wellington Street

This is how I come to be lost and then found in the cemetery on a damp, grey day. This is how I come to be sitting in a small park in the rain, near an innocuous cottage not unlike every other cottage in the street.  This is how I come to be wandering along a laneway in the bright winter sun, on my way to see a house that – in all honesty – is merely a house for all that has happened there. And this is how I come to be writing a story of maps and mysteries, while quietly wondering at the story of a bad death.


Griffiths Plot, Karrakatta Cemetery

 In Loving Memory of Harry and Kathleen who departed this life suddenly, June 27th 1936.  Aged 34 years and 4 months & 32 years and 11 months.  Darling son and daughter-in-law of Ada M. Mulligan.  “So deeply mourned, so sadly missed.”


See A House on Highgate Hill for more local history from Perth’s inner-north.

Bad Poetry Retrospective

I have a good five or six posts in Simplenote that are labelled ‘draft’ or ‘almost good to go’. Thing is, I’ve been writing so very much at work over the past few months instead of doing technical things, and it’s consuming most of my writing capacity.

In the meantime, I was planning on leeching some content from better writers than I and posting some of my favourite poetry here, but in the course of searching for it I rediscovered ‘Bad Poetry at the Flying Blogspot’ – something I wrote sporadically for my LiveJournal back in the day. Hold my hand; let’s travel back in time.

Oh, Office Job of Doom (2005)

Oh Office Job of Doom,
You sap my will to live
As each second passes,
And I can barely find comfort
In the knowledge that
I will be out of here in two hours.
Nor is there solace in knowing
That I am here but two days in each week,
Or that better things await me.

Oh Office Job of Doom,
You are so much less interesting
Than rioting in Cronulla,
And yet you both suck
So very much.
I wish to stab you in the face
With something very pointy,
Or better yet
Something very blunt.

How is it that you warp
The very fabric of Space-Time
Oh Office Job of Doom?
If I could understand this
I would surely not be working here.

Words to Adobe Creative Suite In No Particular Poetic Form (2006)

My love, it occurs to me,
That you and I
Have the most dysfunctional
Of relationships.

On the one hand,
I defend you against the likes
Of upstarts,
Such as Quark and Freehand.

We sniff at MS Paint,
And bring new beauty
Into the world each day.

On the other
I rain abuse upon you;
And as you claim ‘Out of Memory’
I swear I’ll never forget.

You send ripples of electrons
Pulsing desperately
Across the surface
Of our motherboard and hard drive.

My wailing and cursing
And gnashing of teeth
Can be heard
By the neighbours.

For as long as we both shall live, my love,
It will be you and I
Trading punch for punch,
Down the hall.

Ode to David Tennant, Upon the Watching of Season Four, Episode One (2008, not actually an ode)

Mr Tennant,
You are quite fabulous, especially in glasses,
And we have as good a relationship as can be expected,
Given that we’ve never met.
Offered a choice between
Your good self and The Doctor
I would at first be inclined towards The Doctor
What with the space travel and time travel
And all that.
However, upon serious reflection
I would most likely choose you,
Because you could always pretend to be The Doctor
Then spend the rest of the day
Talking to me in that sexy, sexy accent.
Also, I’m not sure
In spite of having read many works
Of filthily speculative fan-fiction,
Of quite how, biologically speaking,
A Time Lord would go with the making out and so forth,
And I’m sure you appreciate
Quite how critical a concern that would be.
Further, Mr Tennant,
I saw you on Top Gear,
And you were quite adorable,
Much more so than Billie Piper,
Who cheated.
So if you’ll just bring the car around to pick me up,
My hatbox and I shall be waiting for you, Mr Tennant,
With love.

301 Days of Wikipedia

In 2011, I posted 300 Days of Wikipedia.  Subsequently, friends commented that this action was likely to get them fired, citing a sudden and overwhelming urge to spend all day reading Wikipedia.  No-one was, to my knowledge fired.  And so, in the spirit of trying ever harder, I have compiled a sequel.

As per last year’s post, a warning.  While many of the articles on this list are work-friendly and generally inoffensive, do be aware that my interests sometimes stray into the gory, morbid and pornographic, and click accordingly.  (This batch contains an article on the war photographer who helped break the My Lai Massacre news, cruel and unusual experimentation, sport, and a giant spider sculpture.)  If you come across any broken links or other errors, leave me a comment and I’ll fix them up.

001 1854 Broad Street cholera outbreak
002 1984 Rajneeshee bioterror attack
003 555 (telephone number)
004 A moron in a hurry
005 Aerogel
006 AFL siren controversy
007 Alder Hey organs scandal
008 Ali Dia (footballer)
009 American Mustache Institute
010 Andreas Grassl
011 Anglo-Zanzibar War
012 Ant mill
013 Barbados v Grenada (1994)
014 Barometer question
015 Bear JJ1
016 Bed burial
017 Bedford Level experiment
018 Benford’s Law
019 Betteridge’s Law of Headlines
020 Bicycle infantry
021 Black fax
022 Blood in the Water match
023 Blood-vomiting game
024 Body snatching
025 Bootstrap paradox
026 Boston Corbett
027 Breaker boy
028 Bugchasing
029 Bummer and Lazarus
030 Burke and Hare
031 Burst of Joy
032 Bus bunching
033 Business speak
034 Bystander effect
035 Camping (game)
036 Canadian Parliamentary Cats
037 Candy desk
038 Cargo cult
039 Casper (cat)
040 Cat piano
041 Cecil Jacobson
042 Cecil Kelley criticality accident
043 Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge’s Taxonomy
044 Charlie Brown and Franz Stigler story
045 Cher Ami
046 Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant sarcophagus
047 Chess boxing
048 Chicago Tunnel Company
049 Chicken eyeglasses
050 Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office
051 Christian side hug
052 Cliff Young (athlete)
053 Coal hoal
054 Cocktail party effect
055 Coffin birth
056 ComBat
057 Conflict of interest editing on Wikipedia
058 Contaminated currency
059 Copycat suicide
060 Coral Castle
061 Corpse road
062 Cow magnet
063 Crypt of Civilization
064 Cryptomnesia
065 Cultural cringe
066 Curse of the Colonel
067 Cute cat theory of digital activism
068 Dabbawala
069 Darius McCollum
070 Dead mall
071 Deep-sea gigantism
072 Descent from antiquity
073 Digital dark age
074 Dinner by Heston Blumenthal
075 Disappearance of Rebecca Coriam
076 Dog whipper
077 Domino Day 2005 sparrow
078 Doomsday argument
079 Drunkard’s cloak
080 Dunwich
081 Early flying machines
082 Early world maps
083 Eddie’s House
084 Elem Farm Ollie
085 Elevator paradox
086 Elisha Gray and Alexander Bell telephone controversy
087 Ellen A. Martin
088 English As She Is Spoke
089 Euthanasia Coaster
090 Exquisite corpse
091 Falling on a grenade
092 Flirty fishing
093 Floater
094 Florence Y’All Water Tower
095 Four-dimensional space
096 Fox tossing
097 Fred the Undercover Kitty
098 Gaëtan Dugas
099 General Butt Naked
100 George P. Burdell
101 Ghost army
102 Goose pulling
103 Gravity Research Foundation
104 Great Stink
105 Greg Packer
106 Greyfriars Bobby
107 Guess 2/3 of the average
108 H. H. Holmes
109 H. Rochester Sneath
110 Hairy Frog
111 Handlebar Club
112 Hansa Carrier
113 Hard problem of consciousness
114 Harold Hering
115 Hart Island (New York)
116 Hashima Island
117 Helike
118 Helikopter Streichquartett
119 Henry Box Brown
120 Here be dragons
121 Hiroo Onoda
122 History of longitude
123 Hobo
124 Hockney-Falco thesis
125 Hollywood Freeway chickens
126 Hotel toilet paper folding
127 Hubble Ultra-Deep Field
128 Hugh Thompson Jr.
129 Human experimentation in the United States
130 Human flesh search engine
131 Ice-hotel
132 Illusory superiority
133 Imber
134 Impossible colours
135 Inattentional blindness
136 Incident pit
137 Inherited accessory nail of the fifth toe
138 Internet vigilantism
139 James Joseph Dresnok
140 Jedi census phenomenon
141 JetBlue flight attendant incident
142 Joseph Jagger
143 Karl Bushby
144 Kattenstoet
145 Kepler 22b
146 Ketchup as a vegetable
147 Kjærlighetskarusellen
148 Klerksdorp sphere
149 Kowloon Walled City
150 Kuleshov Effect
151 La Princesse
152 Laika
153 Lal Bihari
154 Language of flowers
155 Larry Walters
156 Laser harp
157 Letters of the last resort
158 Lion’s Mane Jellyfish
159 List of company name etymologies
160 List of confidence tricks
161 List of inventors killed by their own inventions
162 Littlewood’s law
163 London matchgirls strike of 1888
164 London Post Office Railway
165 London Underground mosquito
166 Lost in the mall technique
167 Lunokhod 1
168 Magic Roundabout (Swindon)
169 Marvin Heemeyer
170 Mary Ellis Grave
171 Mary Mallon
172 Matthew Robinson, 2nd Baron Rokeby
173 Mayerling Incident
174 Mercy Brown vampire incident
175 Method of loci
176 Miasma theory
177 Mike the Headless Chicken
178 Mill Ends Park
179 Miraculin
180 MissingNo.
181 Missionary Church of Kopimism
182 Moberly-Jourdain incident
183 Mobile Bay Jubilee
184 Montpelier Hill
185 Montreal-Philippines cutlery controversy
186 Moon treaty
187 Motorized recliner incident
188 Mummy brown
189 Murder of Tim McLean
190 My Way killings
191 Myrtle Corbin
192 Nail house
193 Net cafe refugee
194 New York City Subway chaining
195 Nix v. Hedden
196 Nixon’s Enemies List
197 Non-apology
198 Norwegian butter crisis
199 Octopus wrestling
200 On Bullshit
201 Operation Cornflakes
202 Orphan Train
203 Oxford Electric Bell
204 Panelák
205 Parahawking
206 Parking chair
207 Paternoster
208 Paul Erdos
209 Paul is dead
210 Peel P50
211 Pencil test (South Africa)
212 Pepper’s ghost
213 Perpetual traveler
214 Phantom ringing
215 Pink slime
216 Pit of despair
217 Pollen basket
218 Polybius (video game)
219 Portsmouth Sinfonia
220 Powers and abilities of Superman
221 Pranknet
222 Prediction market
223 Premature burial
224 Preview of the War We Do Not Want
225 Principle of least astonishment
226 Project Steve
227 Pruit-Igoe
228 Pulgarsi
229 Quine (computing)
230 Radium Girls
231 Raising of Chicago
232 Realistic conflict theory
233 Roadkill cuisine
234 Ronald L. Haeberle
235 Room 39
236 Rotten and pocket boroughs
238 Russian Woodpecker
239 Sankebetsu brown bear incident
240 Sarajevo Rose
241 Scold’s bridle
242 Season 6B
243 Seasteading
244 Sehnsucht
245 Semaphore line
246 Sexuality of Abraham Lincoln
247 Shaun Greenhaigh
248 Ship of Theseus
249 Shoe-banging incident
250 Shower-curtain effect
251 Silk Road (anonymous marketplace)
252 Sledging (cricket)
253 Smart mob
254 Sockpuppet (Internet)
255 Solving chess
256 Song-plugger
257 Sonjourner Truth
258 St Scholastica Day Riot
259 Stack Interchange
260 Stanislav Petrov
261 Strange loop
262 Sudanese goat marriage incident
263 Sugar glass
264 Svalbard Global Seed Vault
265 Tank man
266 Telegony (pregnancy)
267 Ten Pound Poms
268 The Boy in the Box (Philadelphia)
269 The Day the Music Died
270 The Hardest Logic Puzzle Ever
271 Tim Tam Slam
272 Time discipline
273 Timeline of the Future
274 Tip of the tongue
275 Tired and emotional
276 Toilet paper orientation
277 Tower of Wooden Pallets
278 Tri-State Crematory
279 Triboluminescence
280 Troy Hurtubise
281 Tube Challenge
282 Two envelopes problem
283 Unauthorized Apple Stores in China
284 Underground restaurant
285 United States Capitol subway system
286 Unsinkable Sam
287 Venus effect
288 Villejuif leaflet
289 Vinland map
290 Wanda Tinasky
291 War pigeon
292 Waterspout
293 We Can Do It!
294 Weasel program
295 Weather Station Kurt
296 Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan
297 Witzelsucht
298 Wookey Hole Caves
299 Wreck of the RMS Titanic
300 Zero stroke
301 Zorbing

Behold the First Date Resolvatron, Beta!

Apparently I’m not the only one engaging in tongue-in-cheek discussions along the lines of ‘well, if only I could quantify whether [interpersonal issue here].’  In this case ‘well, if only it were easier to know whether I really wanted to ask someone out’.  (I have a fairly low threshold for Ahh, Whatever, Can’t Be Bothered, which means that I generally stop worrying about it, grab another glass of wine and play Skyrim for five or six hours.)

So, I made a toy.  As a data modeller it shames me – hard-coded numbers in formulae and arbitrary assumptions abound. And because humans are stupidly complex, it ignores about eleventy-million critical variables. However, it amuses and appears to generate not-unreasonable results for most inputs.  (Not-unreasonable results at least, for my brain, which is clearly not your brain.  Unless it is, which would be creepy, so back off zombie and/or clone.)

I haven’t ported it to Google Docs yet, so you’ll need Excel 2007 or later to play:  First Date Resolvatron

Now the computer tells me that I must go and ask someone out to dinner. How awkward.

Women of Numbers, Unite

Note (01 May 2012): I may have strayed from my intention in writing this one, as I fear it has been misinterpreted in some quarters.  I know many, many women who are good data analysts, and great data analysts.  I’ve read many wonderful articles containing great quantitative research.  However, the the best of my knowledge there is still a black hole when it comes to women talking about data as a feminist issue.  Datafeminists, to coin an awkward term.  Let’s keep talking.

I’m a researcher. I am passionate about research. And yet I hated every moment spent researching this article.

Search for any combination of words including ‘feminist’ and ‘statistics’ and you’ll see what I mean. There’s no body of work around the importance and use of statistics and data in feminist writing; no discussion around sourcing and interrogating data, and effectively communicating the information derived. Similarly, it seems that feminist posts taking oft-cited statistics and subjecting them to robust analysis don’t exist, or are so overwhelmed by a torrent of vitriol that they are near impossible to find.

Vitriol, you say? The posts I came across while searching for material were dominated by comments like these:

“Feminists never tire from promoting their lies”
“Why Feminism’s Vital Statistics Are Always Wrong”
“You are better off ignoring feminist stats”
“Feminism is the main cause of divorce in America”
“Feminists falsify facts for effect”

There are traps here. To say ‘we should have tried harder’ and so to accept the vitriol and the shaming, and – abhorrently – to blame ourselves. To rage against the often raised (and often valid) point that women must unfailingly conform to a higher standard than men to prove themselves. I’m probably going to fall into a few of those traps, in spite of trying my best.  But regardless, I wanted to write this and release it into the wild, because poor data, lazy research are problems wherever they arise, and it genuinely matters to me that we give these things our best effort – particularly when they pertain to very issues that we care about the most.

So, the researching of this post was a falling into the void in popular feminist writing that lurks in the place of well-referenced, well-researched, statistically sound numbers. A void where I would hope to see women with a passion for statistics vigorously promoting and debating the use of quantitative data. Encountering instead, unreferenced statistics, unsourced numbers, sweeping conclusions based only on anecdotal evidence. I’ve worked as a financial analyst, and now as an economist. I aspire to be the best rationalist I can be, however imperfect my achievement. And it grieves me to see such a deficiency, a great disconnect between two things I hold dear.

It’s not that the figures, the assertions, the conclusions are necessarily incorrect. But even if a number pulled from the ether without verification happens to be correct, this does not validate the process used to derive it. Erroneous – or perhaps worse – fundamentally unverifiable numbers propogate without scrutiny. Consider a number of specific cases. (I apologise in advance for cherry-picking and do note that these too are, ironically, anecdotal. However, given the shortage of self-critique and self-correction in feminist analysis, today we will settle for cautionary tales.)

1. Joan Brumberg, historian and former director of women’s studies at Cornell University wrote in Fasting Girls: The Emergence of Anorexia Nervosa as a Modern Disease that there were 150,000 to 200,000 fatalities from anorexia nervosa in any given year. Brumberg was misquoting the American Anorexia and Bulimia Association which had stated that there were 150,000 to 200,000 sufferers of of anorexia nervosa in the United States in any given year.

This error might have easily been identified by checking with the National Center for Health Statistics, which gave a figure of 70 deaths from anorexia in 1990. However, widely read authors including Naomi Wolf in The Beauty Myth and Gloria Steinam in Revolution From Within uncritically cited Brumberg’s figure without seeking out the primary source. (Both authors issued a correction once the error was highlighted.)

Even when writer Christina Hoff Sommers pointed out the mistake, she herself made the error of uncritically taking the Centre for Heath Statistics figure, stating that the actual number of deaths from anorexia was “less than 100 deaths per year.” In not considering the sources of data used by the the National Center for Health Statistics (which happened to be death certificates) she failed to consider heart failure, suicide or other causes of death arising as a consequence of anorexia. In contrast, the [peer reviewed] study, The Course of Eating Disorders (Herzog et al, eds.) indicated that the long-term fatality rate might be closer to 15%. Recognising the mistakes of others does not make one immune to making one’s own, and as Sommers herself said, “Where were the fact checkers, the editors, the skeptical journalists?” And, to give credit where it is due, Sommers has been one of our more vocal watchdogs when it comes to accuracy and factual reporting.

2. The March of Dimes Foundation, a United States non-profit established to work for the health of mothers and babies provides another example. In November 1992, Deborah Louis (then president of the National Women’s Studies Association) posted a message to the Women’s Studies Electronic Board citing the March of Dimes Foundation, stating that, “according to [the] last March of Dimes report, domestic violence (vs. pregnant women) is now responsible for more birth defects than all other causes combined.” Peculiarly, the March of Dimes Foundation did not publish a report on this topic, and was not aware of any research supporting the statement. Indeed, Maureen Corry, director of the March’s Education and Health Promotion Program, said “We have never seen this research before.”

This did not prevent Patricia Ireland, then president of the National Organisation for Women, saying that “battery of pregnant women is the number one cause of birth defects in this country” on the Charlie Rose program in February 1993.

The misinformation then propogated though The Boston Globe, the Dallas Morning News and Time magazine before the error was traced to the founder of a domestic violence advocacy project, Sarah Buel of Harvard Law School. Buel had misunderstood a statement made by Caroline Whitehead, a maternal nurse and child-care specialist in North Carolina, who cited a March of Dimes study indicating that more women are screened for birth defects than are screened for domestic battery. Whitehead had made no comment on the connection between battery and birth defects.

3. In January in 1993 at a news conference held by a coalition of women’s groups, reporters were told that Super Bowl Sunday is “the biggest day of the year for violence against women.”  The reporters were futher told that 40% more women would experience domestic battery on that day. (More, one might ask, than on what other day?) Sheila Kuehl (California Women’s Law Center) had used a study conducted at Virginia’s Old Dominion University three years before. Again, the statistic propogated through the media, with Rober Lipsyte of the New York Times referring to the “Abuse Bowl.”

The following day, psychologist and author of The Battered Woman Lenore Walker claimed on Good Morning America that she had compiled a ten-year report that showed the sharp spike in violent incidents against women on Super Bowl Sundays. And the day after that, reporter Lynda Gorov reported in the Boston Globe that women’s hotlines and shelters were “flooded with more calls from victims [on Super Bowl Sunday] than on any other day of the year,” citing “one study of women’s shelters out West” that “showed a 40 per cent climb in calls, a pattern advocates said is repeated nationwide, including Massachusetts.”

When writer Ken Ringle from the Washington Post called Janet Katz, professor of sociology and criminal justice at Old Dominion and co-author of the study originally cited by Kuehl at the news conference, Katz said “That’s not what we found at all,” and stated that an increase in emergency-room admissions “was not associated with the occurrence of football games in general.”

When Lenore Walker was asked to provide details of the findings from her ‘ten-year study’ she declined to share them, saying “We don’t use them for public consumption, we used them to guide us in advocacy projects.”

4. Since the mid-1980’s statements have have proliferated to the effect that women represent one half of the world’s population and a third of its labour force, are responsible for two-thirds of all working hours, receive a tenth of world income and own less than 1% of all property.

The numbers appeared in 1984 in Robin Morgan’s introduction to a book called Sisterhood Is Global: The International Women’s Movement Anthology. I remember seeing them in pamphlets and on posters at university, some fifteen years later. The oldest known source for them is in an editor’s introduction to an issue of the journal Women at Work, published by the International Labour Organisation in 1978, which stated:

“A world profile on women, using selected economic and social indicators, reveals that women constitute one half of the world population and one third of the official labour force; perform nearly two-thirds of work hours; but according to some estimates receive only one-tenth of the world income and possess less than one-hundredth of world property.”

Unsourced. No explanation of the ‘selected’ indicators. No elaboration on where ‘some estimates’ might have come from, or what these might be.

In 2007, author Krishna Ahooja-Patel, the editor responsible for that statement back in 1978, published a book called Development Has A Woman’s Face: Insights from Within the U.N. where she mentions that the formula was her own, and that it was “based on some available global data and others derived by use of fragmentary indicators at the time, in the late 1970s.”

The assumptions underlying Ahooja-Patel’s numbers include a guess that women constituted 33% of the world’s formal workforce and data from ‘several countries’ (unspecified) that they earned 10% to 30% less than men. From this, she took the higher end of the range from the earnings data, rather than a midpoint, and calculated that a third of the world’s total income was earned by women.

Further, Ahooja-Patel’s only explanation of the assertion that women own less than one hundredth of the world’s property is that “if the average wage of women is so low, it can be assumed that they do not normally have any surplus to invest in reproducible or non-reproducible assets.” She cites “various UN statistics” as her source.

For more than a quarter of a century, these numbers have filtered down through publications, women’s groups, the media, the internet and more. Often, the primary source is never stated, giving a misleading impression as to the date, time and context in which they were originally provided. They have been endlessly repeated wherever the issues of women, money, work and property are raised. And yet in their unreliability and unverifiability, they do no justice to feminism’s most critical concerns.

These are tales in isolation, demonstrating the manner in which bad information can indiscriminately spread. Far worse, is how little we care; where are our wonderful, fierce women arguing in favour of excellence in research and analysis? Where are those well-known women who have played key parts in the tales above, warning and educating us by virtue of the lessons they’ve learned? Where are the feminist bloggers, clamouring for an end to apathy and lazy journalism?  They may be out there, but we do not help their voices ring loud enough for me to find them in the world.

We can do better than this. So much better. I know women who are ethicists, financiers, lawyers, economists, actuaries, librarians, curators, researchers, doctors, biologists, accountants, architects, engineers, chemists, anthropologists, writers, geologists, journalists, linguists, computer scientists, pathologists, mathematicians, political scientists and more. Intelligent women who know better than to take a number at face value, or to state a conclusion without credible support. Intelligent women who value quality and who wholeheartedly support a culture of honest analytical contribution and critique.

Sometimes, we are story-tellers. Anecdotes have a valuable role in sharing a message, in communicating a large picture to a small audience. But we are not only story-tellers. We are astoundingly well-educated, connected human beings, and that in itself is a great privilege – the children of a providential intersection of race, class, geography and more.

Do better, loudly and visibly. Because we are astoundingly clever and astoundingly well-educated, and there is no honour in doing less than the best we can.

More Heart Than Me

Two posts in one day!  What is this?   This one is a bit frivolous and retrospective, in line with my lofty ambitions to become more frivolous and retrospective.

Music has, as ever, been my saving grace in an upsy-downsie year, and so I’m sharing a few of the songs that have been stuck in my head throughout. (If everyone could just take a moment to forget that I said I’d compile a playlist for Zoe and haven’t as yet done so, that would be lovely.)   Some of these took quite a bit of finding, being rare/old/live, and the last one I think, is surely one of my theme songs for the year almost gone.

My Friend the Chocolate Cake – More Heart Than Me

Jeff Martin – Love The One You’re With (cover) – I don’t think a good video of this exists, so you’ll just have to go buy the album.  It’s just about my favourite love song of all time.

The Tallest Man on Earth – The Wheel – rare piano version; this just breaks my heart.

The Tallest Man on Earth – The Gardener

Billy Bragg – Greetings to the New Brunette

Machine Gun Fellatio – Unsent Letter

Nick Drake – Time Has Told Me

Pendulum – Propane Nightmares

Manic Street Preachers – You Stole the Sun from My Heart

Radiohead – No Surprises

Tom Waits – The Piano Has Been Drinking

The Triffids – Tender is the Night

Tool – Wings for Marie

Lou Reed – Perfect Day

Warren Zevon – Poor Poor Pitiful Me

Karnivool – Sleeping Satellite (cover)

Kaki King – Pull Me Out Alive

Amanda Palmer – In My Mind

But maybe it isn’t all that funny,
   but I’ve been fighting all my life.
   But maybe I have to think it’s funny,
   if I want to live before I die,
   and maybe it’s funniest of all, to think I’ll die before I actually see
   that I am exactly the person that I want to be.


A sound, an echo

I spent five days hiking through the forest, over the dunes, and along the beach this week. 72.4km along the coast of the Southern Ocean between Denmark and Albany; no internet, no phone. Just me, 12kg on my back, a camera, my barefoot running shoes and a hammock.

For some of the journey, hilarity, stories, silliness, life, the universe and everything flowed between me and the two dear friends who accompanied me on the trail. But much of the time was spent re-reading Marcus Aurelius in the long, light evenings, and contemplating, untangling, thinking, step after step.

There were birds and beetles, tiger snakes – so very many tiger snakes, venomous and shy – and many hours walking under and through the wind farms, the gentle sound of them rocking me to sleep at night.

One night at sunset, I climbed the hill and lay in the grass, photographing the wildflowers in the fading light. There, alone up the hill with nothing but the wind, for a moment holding the logos of the Stoics in my mind and knowing that this is all there is. Remember.


A Node's Place is in the Home Tern, Coffs Harbour Coffs Harbour Coffs Harbour Nudibranch, Arrawarra, NSW Sea Cucumber? Arrawarra, NSW Urchin, Arrawarra, NSW Starfish, Arrawarra, NSW Polychaete Worm, Arrawarra, NSW Shrimp, Arrawarra, NSW Shrimp, Arrawarra, NSW Mollusc, Arrawarra, NSW 

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@dilettantiquity is interested in an unreasonable number of things, including the wide and wonderful universe, happiness, well-being, wine, optimal human experience, non-violent communication, complex systems, existential nihilism, rationality, technology, grassroots organising, cacophony, music, creativity, learning and love.