This is the archive of the original tigtogblog

tigtog now posts at the new and improved Hoyden About Town. She also blogs at Larvatus Prodeo and Finally A Feminism 101 Blog. If the new Hoydenspace is down you should find updates below.

Posts begin below the Feed Modules from the blogs named above.

Hoyden About Town

Latest Posts from Finally, A Feminism 101 Blog


Goose: Gander

In a timely fashion considering Kim's response to Tim Blair's baiting about whether progressives would condemn abstinence-only sex-education at a Muslim school in Australia in the same way as when it's advocated by Christians (yes, of course we would), Zuzu at Feministe posted this:

"Where is the outrage? I can guarantee the tone of Newsweek's piece would be far different if this were an Al Qaeda-funded videogame being distributed in the Arab world and advocating the murder of Christians as infidels. Just imagine the outrage at a game just like this one, but with a Muslim rather than Christian focus"

Zuzu's talking about a new videogame based on Timothy LaHaye's bestselling Left Behind novels, set in a post-Rapture USA:


Tip for the Domestically Inexact

Do not, in a moment of Wild Optimism masquerading as a Brilliant Idea, put the smelly towels you found under your son's bed[*] in the washing machine on the heavy duty cycle instead of giving them a good soak in a disinfectant solution as recommended by my mum and yours.

Especially in a brand new machine that's still showing off just how much more powerful it is than the last one.

The result is towels that look like they need to go to the vet for some special cream.

* This is of course a calumny upon the Togster, who actually leaves towels any old where downstairs, whereupon I heap them up in an overlooked corner of the laundry and then make disgusted noises the next day (or the day after) when I remember that I meant to wash them the day before or the day before that, if you're following me, which may not be the best idea.


Oh noes, a search terms post

I'm not that keen on "weird things people search for and end up at this blog" posts, (although my sitemeter does give me frequent quiet moments of amusement and rarer bouts of disgust) but:

People who are arriving at this blog searching for blather about the new Brangelina baby (and quickly running off when what you find is blather about the history of hyphenated surnames), you might have better luck finding the sort of page you want if you spell the baby's name properly. Her name is
Shiloh Nouvelle* Jolie-Pitt(see erratum below)
Shiloh Novel Jolie-Pitt

Nouvelle means a new female in French, and while an unusual choice for a name, is certainly apposite for a female baby.

Novel means a book of fiction (such things are mentioned fairly often here), and really would be a very odd choice of name indeed for any baby. Jolie and Pitt may well be odd, but they're not that odd.


Kudos to the one searcher who came here after spelling the infant's name correctly.

ERRATUM: There's an old USENet tradition regarding spelling flames, which is that a spelling flame should always contain a misspelling of its own. To my chagrin, it appears that the first source I read about the name of baby Jolie-Pitt incorrectly gave her second pre-name as "Nouvelle", when it is in fact "Nouvel" i.e. tha masculine form rather than the feminine, so my snark above is wrongwrong-wrongitty-wrong. Well, except about "Novel" being even wronger there is a limit y'know. There is speculation that this name honours architect Jean Nouvel (architecture being a passion of Pitt's) but until the golden couple emerge from their postnatal glow we just don't know. The Academie Francaise don't like it nohow, but as a girl named after my dad's uncle I don't think it's something worth fussing about, except that every gossip reporter will.

Ruminating Erudition (swoon)

Brand spanking new group blog Sarsaparilla, writing about literature, media and culture from Aussie points of view, with contributors who are some of my favourite Ozbloggers.

I love this idea - bless the good blog Sarsaparilla and all who sail in her!

Oh, and Kerryn did an excellent job on reviewing Answered by Fire like I was going to, and now I don't need to, so go read it.

Moronic twits and clap-trap

Daily Telegraph columnist Anita Quigley is shrill in her Saturday column about a Sydney pre-school which has introduced a curriculum which is friendly to non-traditional homosexual and transgender families. She's "a strong advocate for a factual and concise sex curriculum for students" but (we knew there was going to be a but, didn't we?):

There is a time and a place for sex education but pre-school isn't it. That's when your child should be colouring-in; learning the alphabet, to count and write his or her name.

A preschool for six-month-olds to six-year-olds is not the forum to explain sex. Not heterosexual sex nor lesbian, nor gay nor bisexual and certainly not transgender.

She refers to the early-childhood staff at a Marrickville Council pre-school as "twits", calls the Mayor "moronic", and the whole idea of a non-discriminatory family education programme as "clap-trap".
Homophobia is a persistent and ugly prejudice which maturing social values are gradually tackling on their own. It is also something a child under the age of six need not worry about. Why? Because they are in the fortunate position of being children. When all you need to know in life is that you love Bill and Ben, without questioning why two men shared a potting shed.
Anita, just possibly that pre-school already has children there who have two mummies, or two daddies, or a mummy or daddy who looks different somehow from the other mummies and daddies. Do you really think pre-schoolers don't notice these things?

And does she honestly think that pre-school education about non-traditional parenting pairs is going to go into graphic detail about the mechanics of how they get the beast with two backs on? Rather than just have a few books like "Heather has two mummies" on the shelf? And carers that have been trained to be sympathetic about such families, some of whom probably are or will be their clients?

Next these so called "educators" at Tillman Park will want to take these pure innocent tots to Crazy Horse to watch a bit of girl-on-girl action so they don't grow up to discriminate against strippers.

Sack the lot of them.

Well, yes, I guess she does think that. Grow up, Anita.

Hat-tip: ABC National Radio story

UPDATE: in today's editorial, the Tele goes even shriller about Marrickville Mayor Mr Byrne.

He wouldn't shut up about his success in "challenging children's perceptions of what is normal gender and sexual identity".

As we stated on Saturday -- what perverted rot. Children do not have a perception of sexual identity, and anyone who sets out to create one is, put simply, a creep.

Lovely. Anyone who's done even the smallest amount of reading in the psychology of gender and sexual identity knows that children as young as 18 months have very strong perceptions regarding same even though they don't know what sex is, but oh no: the Tele tells us they simply do not, and that's that. No need to think about it at all. And certainly no reason to distract us from how hopelessly irresponsible Mayor Byrne is.
Yesterday, in the wake of the wholly foreseeable public outcry about Marrickville Council's childcare agenda, Mr Byrne was nowhere to be found. The Daily Telegraph telephoned him five times and even want to his home to ask him to explain himself. Not a peep.
Fancy. On a Sunday, the Mayor spent the day out doing things instead of sitting at home so that the Tele journos could doorstop him. What a shock.

And Sue Dunlevy gets Mal Brough's tuppence worth:
As ratepayers expressed anger, Family and Community Services Minister Mal Brough branded the curriculum "ridiculous". "At that age children should be fingerpainting and having fun, not learning about social behaviour which many parents regard as way beyond their years," he said.
And have any of these people actually read the curriculum, I wonder? Parenting is not social behaviour that is "way beyond their years" for small children - they are parented every day, they understand that other kids have parents too. Look honestly at the toddlers you know - does anyone really think it would be totally mind-warping to mention once in a while that sometimes parents are two men or two women?

What's really going on with this beat-up?
Sam Byrne's campaign in Marrickville won support from [Green] Senators Bob Brown and Kerry Nettle and state MPs Lee Rhiannon and Ian Cohen. As with the party's liberal drug policies -- which they did little to promote at the 2004 federal election -- this outrage shows anyone considering a protest vote should read the fine print.
Now, isn't it interesting that I heard former Marrickville Mayor Barry Cotter (who is still a councillor) on the radio the other day, for the first time in ages. Is someone in Marrickville council trying to run the numbers on the mayoralty I wonder? And why's the Tele so keen on smoothing the ground for such a run?

FURTHER UPDATE: There's a rather more balanced story in today's Age.


Hyphenating - who goes first?

So Brangelina's baby has been born - Shiloh Nouvelle Jolie-Pitt. There is undoubtedly going to be a lot of sneering at the choice of personal names, but today I'm looking at the family name.

Jolie and Pitt had already decided on the hyphenation when he decided to petition to co-adopt Maddox and Zahara, Jolie's two adopted children. And the order they've chosen is what is seen as usual - the woman's name first, the man's name last. This has become so customary that when my husband and I chose to hyphenate our surnames for the kids with his name first and my name last it was considered odd. I later found that at least one of our acquaintance wrote a letter to my mother-in-law where added to the litany of complaints about me was that by ordering the surnames thus I was belittling my husband (all those people who tell you that you shouldn't read other people's letters are right you know, even if you're doing it as part of a deceased estate clearup).

Now, we actually chose to do it that way around because we thought the surname combination sounded better that way - a purely aesthetic choice. Also, there was no real traditional reason for us to do otherwise, despite what that acquaintance and others since may think.

When hyphenation of surnames first began in Europe, it was a sign of alliances between two noble families of equally ancient name, perhaps with one of them limited to a sole daughter as heiress, and by combining surnames the wife's family name was kept alive - in these cases the wife's surname was usually secondary, as either her family had demonstrated a lack of reproductive vigour, or if the two families were considered otherwise equal then of course the man's surname would come first. e.g. the Anstruther-Gough-Calthorpe family, of Birmingham England, have twice had a man's surname placed pre-eminent to the woman's - first when a Gough married a Calthorpe heiress (1776), and then over a century later (1898) when an Anstruther married a Gough-Calthorpe heiress.

Where the phenomenon became most common however was in the period of less-well-off-than-previous-generations aristocrats/gentry marrying their daughters off to nouveau riche industrialists of no breeding, and in order to emphasise the high status of the bride, the husband named Smith/Smythe/Brown/Carpenter/etc would hyphenate his proletarian surname with his wife's maiden name (because obviously the husband shedding his name for hers was unthinkable). Because the bride's family was socially superior in these cases, her name came before his in the combination. This was seen far more often in recent generations than the aristocratic equivalent, and has come to be considered the norm.

So, if one examines the history of double-barrelled surnames in full, by choosing to place my husband's name before mine in our children's surname combination, I could be considered to honour his family's social status above my own actually (rather than the belittling of which I was accused), were it not for the fact that our choice was not class-based at all. As we considered our families equal on the social ladder, neither of us felt that the kids would have their place in society imperilled by the placement of surname, so we just went with what sounded best.

Mr Tog even offered to not only have the kids use my surname alone, but to change his surname likewise (he'd never liked the one he had). That seemed like too much trouble for us, so we just lumbered the kids with a hyphen instead, and will wait to see what they decide to do if they end up partnered with another hyphenated person.

There is a lovely example of this in an British 20th century interbellum novel, Mapp and Lucia by E. F. Benson, where the genteel Miss Mapp eventually through much effort lands in late middle age the respectable charms of Major Benjamin Flint. Not wanting to give up her own family name, the couple decide to hyphenate, and no-one in town is much surprised when they characteristically end up as the Mapp-Flints and not the Flint-Mapps (who were the Flints, after all?).

I have no idea whether Pitt and Jolie made a euphonic decision, a faux-traditional man's-name-goes-last decision, or a conscious decision that as second generation celebrity the Jolie outranked the Pitt. But anyone else considering hyphenation shouldn't be constrained by feeling that the man's name always ought to be last - if that combination sounds like crap, for the love of Invisible Pink Unicorns, don't do it.

Sunday Stomacher - Fragrant Sour & Spicy Thai Soup

This soup has much the same base as a Laksa, but not so much coconut cream. I tend to use low fat versions of the coconut and chicken stock, but that's an option. Fresh Asian vegetables can be used instead of tinned, or one could use tinned Asian mushrooms instead of fresh. This really is best with chicken. The lemongrass is the fragrance, the kaffir lime gives the sourness, and the red curry paste gives the spice. Excellent for when one has a cold.

1 400 ml tin coconut cream
1 tblsp Thai red curry paste
1 teasp Asian shrimp paste
2 litres chicken stock
500 grams finely diced chicken (thighs/breasts/tenderloins)
6 kaffir lime leaves
2 teasp finely sliced lemongrass roots
250grams fresh Asian mushrooms, finely chopped
2 425grams tins mixed Asian vegetables (bean sprouts/bamboo shoots/baby corn etc)
vermicelli rice noodles
1 tblsp Thai fish sauce
fresh coriander to garnish

Make sure the coconut cream has been standing long enough for the thick cream to rise. Scoop the coconut cream off the top of the tin and place in a large pot on a moderate heat.

Allow the coconut cream to bubble and reduce by 1/3. Add shrimp paste and curry paste and allow coconut mixture to reduce further until spices smell cooked. (Chop chicken now)

Add chicken and stir through coconut spice mixture until meat whitens. Add coconut milk remaining in tin and simmer. Add kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass. Add chicken stock slowly, 1 cup at a time so that soup mixture never goes off simmer.

Now put lid on pot and allow soup to simmer for 30 minutes. Chop mushrooms now, and add after 20 minutes.

5 minutes before serving, add tinned Asian vegetables, fish sauce and vermicelli noodles. Stir through and allow cook for the 5 minutes.

Serve with a garnish of fresh coriander.

Ow! Chris is making my ribs hurt again!

Too bad Mum's gone home or you'd be in big trouble, Mr. Clarke. I was managing to muffle my rib-bruising shrieks of laughter until this bit of your Pitch to Marie-Claire magazine for articles to correct their perceived left-wing slant:

Lose Weight the Objectivist Way With the Ayn Rand Diet
What, you want to be told what the Ayn Rand Diet is? Get off your butt and find out for yourself, you nanny-state culture-of-dependency slacker! Enough hand-holding!



Friday Random Ten - Quick post before crime night edition

aka the when Mum comes to visit edition, because that's when we go out to a beachside cafe for breakfast:

We shared scrambled eggs on multigrain toast and field mushrooms with goats' cheese on toasted sourdough, with apple/carrot/celery/ginger juice. This was our view this morning.

Then we went for a walk along the South Coogee clifftops, where unfortunately our sunny mood was spoilt: someone desperate for a better view had been poisoning some trees (according to the signs the council workers were installing which were going to be even taller than the dying trees).

What makes this act of vandalism even more incomprehensible than the rest of Sydney's viewspot tree poisonings, is that a slight head-swivel at this spot gives the view below:

EDIT: That's right - that's a large expanse of clifftop parkland devoid of obstructing trees just a few metres away from where the trees have been poisoned. Across the road from these signs (but behind where I am standing on the common ground) is a block of flats currently undergoing expensive refurbishment presumably in the hopes of attractive an expansive profit.

Whodunnit? I dunno.

And here's the random 10:

Stevie - John Coltrane
Der Song Von Mandelay - Ute Lemper
Come Back Jonee - Devo
I'm On Your Side - Divinyls
Dig A Pony - Beatles
Love Letters - Sinéad O'Connor
Johnny Strikes Up The Band - Warren Zevon
Talk To Baby Jesus - Mental As Anything
Human Behavior - Björk
Bullet - Divinyls

Not enough angry music for my mood today.


Have you just had a very long meeting?

Which produced nought but numbness from seating?
Next time such arrives
Help your brain to survive
Write for OEDILF while wankers are bleating.

28,000+ limericks and going strong.
We are now working on all words beginning with aa- through bz- inclusive.
It's pure procrastinatory goodnessevil.

Hat-tip: Brian the Hat


Tangled Bank #54 is up

The fortnightly carnival of science-blogging is on again, hosted by Coturnix (who is shortly joining the Seed lords at Scienceblogs) over at Science and Politics: Tangled Bank #54

The Tangled Bank

This time around I'm chuffed both that a post of mine has been included ( Fetal Brain Development: Myths and Disinformation) , and that a long-time e-friend of mine, Diane Kelly at Zygote Games, has also had a post included: look out for her post on Lyme Disease vectors.

Three of my favourite science-bloggers, PZ Myers, Grrrlscientist and Orac also have posts up in #54, but there's lots of new science-writing talent to explore - some like me only dip their toes in science writing every now and then, for others science is their raison-de-blog.

TigtogBob sez well worth a look.

This just in: Heather Mills perhaps not totally evil

I just saw a picture similiar to this held up on telly on a UK tabloid-watch segment, and thought, (as one does with regard to this particular HM), "PR manipulating cow" - for years we've never seen a shot of you with a crutch, but now your marriage breaks up and here you are, a poor frail abandoned amputee.

But then unfortunately my physio brain kicked in. She's about to get on a plane. Stumps swell during flight, so that the prosthesis may well not grip so well as usual, and the pressure during walking will be more painful, and bottom-line: if I was an amputee I'd take a crutch to get around with post-flight too.

The more committed HM-haters might here say "aha! but this was taken pre-flight", which ordinarily might be an astute catch, but apparently she has had some minor surgery to her stump recently (this happens to amputees a lot) so she does actually have a valid excuse for using the crutch there too.

She still is annoying though, but maybe it's alright not to try to justify finding her annoying. Some people just are, and she is one of them.

Although... where's the kid? (probably much better off staying with Macca, natch)

Of course, there's always someone to not take stuff like this too seriously.


Obscene on LJ

Apparently, LiveJournal has no problem with default userpic icons that depict breasts as below, because despite the unapologeticly abundant display of flesh for no other reason than titillating the male gaze, there is an all-important level of decency maintained by strategically placed artificial flowers:

Hey, it's just a girl looking glamorous and sexy, right? Nothing wrong with letting schoolkids see that now, is there?

But if you want a default userpic that depicts breasts like this:

Or , heaven forfend, like this:

Then apparently you are a sick puppy, as children must be protected from the evil concept of NIPPLES FEEDING BABIES (the horror!) at all costs. Because, you know, THEY'RE NIPPLES!

Apparently, a LiveJournal user was asked to change his default userpic icon from one that showed naked breasts. He then retaliated, in a self-confessed act of trollishness, by reporting any default userpic icon he could find of a breastfeeding mother. LiveJournal responded by asking all users with breastfeeding images showing areolae as their default icon to change them to non-default, because nipples feeding babies are just as indecent as naked genitalia.
"LiveJournal has always placed restrictions on default userpics, as the default userpic is visible in many public areas throughout the site, including the Directory, the Schools Directory, and the profile page."
"Any usericon in which unclothed breasts or genitalia are visible is
therefore inappropriate for use as a default icon, and when such icons
are reported to the Abuse team, the user is asked to make that icon

If an icon depicting the act of breastfeeding does not also depict a
clearly visible unclothed breast in which the areola or nipple is
visible, it does not fall into this category."
(email from LJ to an objector quoted in
There's more details on the story and discussion on the LJ forum boob_nazis.

As one contributor to argues,
"...breasts exist primarily for feeding human young, and secondarily as a sensual body part. In much the same way, feet are designed for walking - but that doesn't stop the foot-fetishists. Are you going to ban photos of feet too?"
But should we be so hard on LJ? After all, everybody knows Jesus was so holy he never looked at a nipple in his life:

You have no idea how long it took to find a breastfeeding image that actually showed nipples, that's how bizarrely inverted our Western values are on portraying the breast as it performs its natural biological functions. It took even longer to find a shot of Jordan aka Katie Price that showed cleavage without nipples.

You know how long it took me to find an old-masters-painting image of a nursing Madonna with nipples? First page of search results.

Hat-tip to Lara.
EDIT: argh - forgot the activism link - has 3-minute-activist spots, and objecting to this LJ absurdity is one of them.

Flutey does Eurovision

I must have missed an announcement - a bit over a month ago Flutey said ta-ta to blogging (Ozblogistan mourned), but he's been sneakily posting things for more than a week!

Anyway, he live-blogged the cheesilicious Eurovision Song Contest, which I actually made Mr Tog watch for an hour (and yea, he did findeth the cheese snark-smacking good).

But I didn't come close to Flutey's snark:
"Ooh, a half time break. Time to reflect. Part of the reason I love the ESC is the bastard in me loving the idea of something intended to be so noble, be so base. A bit like Queen Elizabeth going on the game."
Go over to The Daily Flute and read the rest. You know you want to.



we just tuned into Auntie to watch the David Wenham (obPhwoah!) minseries Answered by Fire, set in East Timor in the days leading up to the 1999 referendum on independence from Indonesia.

But it's not on, despite having been advertised all week.

Has someone taken out an injunction? What's happening?

Who moved that apostrophe?

I'm a week late, I know, but Helen's Mother's Day piece got me thinking.

How did a day that grew from West Virginian Mothers' Work Days from 1858 onwards (where mothers worked together to improve their community), and Mothers' Friendship Days from 1865 (to promote harmony between former opponents in the Civil War), become what we celebrate now as Mother's Day?

See the difference that apostrophe position makes? Mother's Day is a day where you do stuff for your mum: sentimental, sweet and ultimately trivial. An inward-focussed family centred event.

Mothers' Days were a gathering of mothers, time spent together for mutual reflection, when mothers en masse might mobilise politically, which when it occurs is rarely trivial at all. An outward-looking society-focussed event.

No wonder it was changed, but who changed it?

Anna Reeves Jarvis was the woman who initiated Mothers' Work Days, where women who belonged to Mothers' Work Day Clubs started by Jarvis around her own town met regularly for action days regarding health and sanitation. The clubs raised money for medicine, hired women to work in families with tuberculous mothers, and inspected food and milk sold in bottles. The movement spread and during the Civil War Jarvis urged the clubs to declare their neutrality and nurse/feed/clothe soldiers from both sides.

After the Civil War Jarvis' Mothers' Friendship Days, promoting reconciliation, were celebrated for several years. As you will see, it is at this point in history that the position of the apostrophe gets murky.

In 1870, with everyone's memories full of Civil War horrors and appalled disbelief at the beginning of the Franco-Prussian war, Julia Ward Howe (more famous as the abolitionist who penned "Battle Hymn of the Republic") started working for a "Mother's Day for Peace" to promote peace, motherhood and womanhood. All the sources I can find indicate that Howe used the singular possessive apostrophe, but when one reads the proclamation she wrote, the movement of the apostrophe from the plural to the singular possessive position seems odd, as the proclamation is definitely a call to mass action, and the Mother's Day for Peace was celebrated by gatherings of women, not by women solely in the bosom of their family as occurs in today's Mother's Day.

It's hard, however, to find when the shift occurred, because modern writers are so casual about apostrophes. This makes the histories written of the transition between Anna Reeves Jarvis' Mothers' Clubs and the proclamation of a national Mother's Day suspect, as who can we trust to be scrupulous about reproducing the apostrophes as they occurred in the original documents?

Most modern writers of any skill manage to eschew the much-mocked grocers' apostrophe, but all one has to do is read any forum online to see people who are obviously otherwise erudite and articulate nonetheless recklessly misusing apostrophes in other cases (and also homonyms, but that can be another discourse).

When Anna Reeves Jarvis died in 1905 her daughter, Ann Marie Jarvis, vowed to honour her mother's work.
From Wikipedia:

Her daughter Ann Marie Jarvis (May 1, 1864 - November 24, 1948) was born in Webster, Taylor County, West Virginia. Her family moved to Grafton, West Virginia in her childhood. A year after her mother's death she held a memorial to her mother on May 12, 1907, and then went on a quest to make Mother's Day a recognized holiday. She succeeded in making this nationally recognized in 1914. The International Mother's Day Shrine still stands today in Grafton as a symbol of her accomplishments.

By the 1920s, Jarvis had become soured on the commercialization of the holiday. She incorporated herself as the Mother's Day International Association, claimed copyright on the second Sunday of May, and was once arrested for disturbing the peace. She and her sister Ellsinore spent their family inheritance campaigning against the holiday. Both died in poverty. Jarvis, says her New York Times obituary, became embittered because too many people sent their mothers a printed greeting card. She considered it "a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write."

What this shows is that between the Mothers' Friendship Days of 1865 and the Mother's Day Proclamation of 1914, common usage (or deliberately inculcated and disseminated trivialisation) had shifted that apostrophe from the power of a mothers' collective action day to the sentimentality of honouring "motherhood", a conveniently numinous term, and this was now enshrined in law.

In an age where very few people appreciate the distinction between its and it's, and where people are so confused generally about apostrophes that anywhere there is an 's' there is doubt, I fear that any campaign to reposition the apostrophe where it belongs is doomed to failure. But I resent the way it moved anyway.

Oh, and an exquisite alleged irony to end the life of the woman who bitterly opposed the floral industry racking up huge Mother's Day profits:
"Anna Jarvis was confined to a nursing home at the end of her life, penniless. Her nursing home bills were paid, unbeknownst to her, by the Florist's Exchange"
See what I mean? Look where that writer put that apostrophe for the professional association of florists! I'm so dobbing them in to Lynne Truss.


Save Nazanin

Save NazaninSpread the word about international support for the 18-year old Iranian girl Nazanin Mahabad Fatehi, who has been sentenced to death by hanging. In previous cases international activism and publicity has saved the lives of other Iranians sentenced to death for crimes which would not carry the death penalty in most other nations.

Nazanin was found guilty of murder for fatally stabbing one of a group of men who was attempting to rape her and her niece.

Please take a few moments to read about her case and what you can do to stop the execution and save Nazanin's life.

Hat-tip: Bitch PhD

You want affordable energy, doncha?

CO2: We Call it Life

That's the slogan for an ad campaign funded by the Competitive Enterprise Institute in the US.

As in "they call it pollution, we call it life".
"Your support will help us continue our fight against global warming alarmism, and for affordable energy and economic freedom around the world."
You see, CO2 can't possibly be any sort of problem, no matter how much is pumped out into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels, because "We breathe it out, plants breathe it in.".

(Cut to CEI seekrit bunker: Ha, those elitist scientists never thought we'd catch on to that obvious rebuttal of their claims, because they think people are stupid, and us industrialists would never ever think sheeple are stupid.. Trust us - we're making money off you guys!)

Apparently the CEI have never head of the concept of too much of a good thing. Neither have they ever heard of hypoxia, anoxia, hypoxaemia or hypercapnia. Or maybe they're sacks of crap who couldn't lie straight in bed.

Kevin Drum let his readers loose on coming up with a better slogan for CO2, and der Plau nailed it IMO:
CO2: We call it life.
No, really, go ahead -- put that plastic bag over your head.

Kevin gave der Plau's tagline an honorable mention but prefers Publius' take, which is more elaborate.

Egritte? Mascher?

This is apparently by an artist named Rob Gonsalves. A whole heap of his art has been posted here. Beautiful stuff.

Hat-tip to Simon the Hat.

Poetry for Insomniacs - Dorothy Parker

The Lady's Reward

Lady, lady, never start
Conversation toward your heart;
Keep your pretty words serene;
Never murmur what you mean.
Show yourself, by word and look,
Swift and shallow as a brook.

Be as cool and quick to go
As a drop of April snow;
Be as delicate and gay
As a cherry flower in May.

Lady, lady, never speak
Of the tears that burn your cheek-
She will never win him, whose
Words had shown she feared to lose.
Be you wise and never sad,
You will get your lovely lad.

Never serious be, nor true,
And your wish will come to you-
And if that makes you happy, kid,
You'll be the first it ever did.


Friday Random Ten - the bookshelf meme edition

Buggered if I can find a theme in this week's selection.

The Weeping Song -Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Tamburitza Lingua - Ani DiFranco
Better Than Anything -Tuck & Patti
A Walk in the Light Green (I Was Only 19) - Redgum
The Walk - Eurythmics
Julia - Beatles
A Perfect Day Elise - PJ Harvey
Cyanide Breath Mind -Beck
Big Nick - John Coltrane & Duke Ellington
Take A Long Line - The Angels

Infected by morgspace, whose bookshelves are much tidier than mine.

My blog profile mentions that I have far too few bookshelves. This, my bedside bookshelf is the tidiest purely so I don't have books fall on my head in the middle of the night. The dolly on top of the bookstack is my first ever dolly, who of course is named "Baby". Ah, gender-conditioning.

Click on the photo for a larger version at Flickr with annotations.

On second thoughts, the theme for both the music and the books is eclectic (how exactly does that differ from dilettante?).


Noms de blog and gender-spectrum etiquette

Yesterday I rang up Sydney ABC talk-radio (that's our national public radio for the foreign readers), as I do once or twice a month when I'm on my way to pick up the kids from school (using the hands-free, and I pull over when I'm talking, honest!). But for the first time, I gave my name as tigtog rather than Viv or Vivienne.

You know what? I felt different when I was talking. Somehow tigtog appeared to make her points more pithily and assertively than Viv does. Viv goes "um" on air distressingly often, tigtog banters fluently. Weird. I managed to make a recommendation, stick to my guns assertively but good-humouredly when challenged, and also get in a quick reference to a topical tangent I could "rant" about if only he had the time (that made the radio host laugh).

See, James Valentine was doing his Form Guide modern etiquette spot, and yesterday was posing a question from a waitress as to the how-to of addressing trans-folk (simplistically, those who dress as the opposite gender to their sex) - should she say sir/madam according to the genderised clothes being worn or the birth-sex she can discern? My first thought was that if the restaurant has a lot of trans-folk patrons and wish to keep their lucrative custom, then why on earth hasn't the management discussed this matter with their staff?

What prompted my call was that the waitress' question, and Valentine (whom, I must emphasise, is one of the good guys generally as far as liberal social tolerance virtues go), kept on referring to the cross-dressing restaurant patrons as "wearing drag". The restaurant in question is apparently close to Oxford Street, so perhaps those transgendered customers are in fact all drag queens, but as the question also referenced a medical secretary wondering whether to call transgendered patients by the sex she knew from the records or by their gender presentation in the waiting room, I bet that in fact at least some of those transgendered customers are routine cross-dressers.

This confusion between drag and broader cross-dressing wasn't helped by Valentine having as his "expert" guest an Oxford Street drag queen, who gender-presented for this programme as male, and who easily made the (surely?) obvious point that proper etiquette is to address people "wearing drag" as their gender presentation (although he professed to find burly blokes addressing a fully-stage-costumed drag queen as "mate/dude" merely amusing).

It was interesting that he also confessed to finding it difficult to refer to his drag king friends as he/him, even though in the dressing room all the drag queens call each other she/her. This drag queen was perfectly happy to describe all cross-dressers as "wearing drag", presumably because that's his habit, and he's perhaps never thought particularly about the implications of referring to all cross-dressing as "wearing drag", and also those words also have a different weight used between trans-folk than when used about trans-folk.

Now, I've worked on stage with drag queens and drag kings, and I've also worked with transgendered people in hospitals as both colleagues and patients. There's a huge difference between people making a performance which is all about laughing at exaggerated gender-stereotype reversal and people who are making a journey from cisgendered to transgendered (for brevity's sake I won't go into the challenges to the binary masculine/feminine gender construct presented by folks who are intergendered or intersexed). "Drag" is performance-art gender presentation, routine cross-dressing is gender-identity gender presentation. Referring to all trans-folk as being "in drag" not only trivialises the gender identity of transgender and intergender folks by equivalencing it with the unreality of performance art, but also reinforces stereotypes of histrionic queens and hostile bull-dykes and buys back into the whole binary gender construct all over again.

So, I got past the producer and got on air. I gave my opinion to Valentine that referring to all cross-dressing as "wearing drag" is insensitive, insisted that he should address this in a discussion on transfolk etiquette (he mildly objected that he didn't want to "get into all that" and just wanted to discuss correct modes of address with respect to gender presentation) and I then made a crack about how he was only touching the surface of what could be discussed regarding the limitations of binary gender constructs but I bet that he didn't want to get into all that either. He laughed at the last, saying that maybe discussing binary constructs of gender could wait for another day, and to his credit stopped referring to routine cross-dressing as "wearing drag" from then on. Result.

Unfortunately I didn't have time to give him some better queer studies jargon to use, so he struggled a bit after that with labels, but that's probably actually a good thing in terms of challenging preconceptions and stereotypes. I'm far from a queer studies expert anyway, just someone who's done some reading because of my interest in binary cisgender constructs from a feminist perspective, and the language being used (admittedly on a fairly fluffy light entertainment talkback show) just seemed so archaic, quaint and downright politically incorrect. I had to leave the car for a while to run an errand, and when I came back he seemed to be better informed jargon-wise and coping with labels a bit more easily, so that was good.

But I was still surprised that in Sydney, on the national broadcaster, the default was to talk about "people wearing drag" rather than "transgendered" and "gender presentation". The trans/inter-gender people in our community obviously are coping with a much higher level of general ignorance than I would have thought.

Some resources for those who want to know more:
Piny at Feministe writes a lot about his experiences transitioning and about challenging heteronormativity and binary gender roles generally, although I'm having some trouble navigating the archive to find articles I remember him writing.
An excellent glossary of intersex/transgender jargon at ITPeople.
Another glossary at Transexual Roadmap.

Recommended Reading

I've been busy catching up on some favorite blogs the last few days:

Larvatus Prodeo has long discussion threads Discrimination and Same-Sex Marriage, the growing "pro-life" activism in the USA against the provision of contraception (Pro-choice, pro-sex? Who's afraid of sex for pleasure?), and Breaking the silence on violence against Indigenous women and girls. The discussion of indigenous atrocities is mostly respectful and informative, the two discussions on sexual/reproductive freedoms bring out the "social conservative" loons.

Over at Road to Surfdom, Tim Dunlop gives us a series of posts about the Australian/US political alliance and current "joint military venture": ANZUS R US, Good comments from Beazley , The Weapon's Detective, and Power corrupts, gorgeously.

Chris Clarke at Creek Running North satirises Bush's Mexican border plan.

Patrick Nielsen-Hayden at Making Light looks at some of the hysterical anti-immigrant rhetoric in Historical re-creationism.

Lance Mannion analyses the Bush presidential advisory team in the light of Terry Pratchett's Guards! Guards! and classic TV show The Wild, Wild West: St George and the Dragon, a fable by Richard Cheney
Devious, ambitious, and unscrupulous men and women who don't have the strength or the wherewithall to take power for themselves directly have always known how easy it is to achieve power by latching onto and flattering and manipulating stupid and egocentric bullies.

The story is so old and familiar and true that even television writers know it.



Women face abuse in the military

No time to comment on this, but plan to later:

The Australian Navy's first female officer tells of years of abuse in the service.

Spin that Beaconsfield backlash

I expected the various criticisms of AWU federal secretary Bill Shorten, whose savvy media performance at Beaconsfield was too slick by half for the composure of many people, even some of my fellow lefties. The right is busy painting him as a callous opportunist. I think it's worth remembering that Shorten cut short his vacation to go to Beaconsfield before Russell and Webb were discovered alive, when everybody was expecting the result was going to be three dead miners and the story, while important, would not be nation-riveting.

That was what the miners of Beaconsfield, as members of the AWU, expected from their union's federal secretary at a time of a major mining disaster: that he would come to talk to the families and make sure that hard questions about mine safety were put front and centre when talking to the media. When that changed into a dramatic rescue story he was the man on the spot with media and liaison experience, so that was the role he naturally fell into. That is the job of union heads, and he is still there doing his job, as in the union meeting with Beaconsfield miners that established that not one of them had received occupational health and safety (OH&S) training.

I'm not surprised to find that he has political aspirations, and apparently that was widely reported in the media prior to the Beaconsfield disaster, it's just that his profile wasn't high enough for us amateur politics watchers to know that. So while it may look like rank opportunism for him now to be seeking preselection, this is actually something that was already in train before the disaster. His 3 weeks in front of the camera has just been a happy accident for him in terms of boosting his political capital.

I see a lot of the speculation about him as a future Prime Minister as a form of poisoning the well. Certainly he is a natural political talent that the ALP should aim to harness, but they need to see how he does as a normal MP before his further advancement can be discussed. He's not a Bob Hawke, with over a decade as the public face of unionism under his belt, able to demand quick advancement to a high-profile Cabinet position.

He needs to show he can keep on performing under pressure, not just do it for one major disaster. Premature speculation about him as a future PM is virtually strewing a minefield at his feet as far as progression within the parliamentary party is concerned - after all, the incumbent MPs all want to think they've got a shot at high office and won't be upstaged by a Billy come lately.

Crikey! points out that some poisoning the well for our rescued miners Russell and Webb has begun as well. With the bidding for the rights to their stories hitting astronomical levels, it appears that some media groups who are concerned that they might miss out have already started writing stories implying that Russell and Webb are greedy, that the real heroes are the rescuers not the survivors (the rescuers have been speaking freely with no media contracts in place), and hinting that the next level of backlash escalation will be that if Russell and Webb hog the media payout to themselves they will be selfish bastards. Peter Fitzsimons in the Sun-Herald (no link, sorry) wrote:

Can anyone remember anyone in the Granville train disaster asking for a dollar for intimate details of what it was like? In 2006, however, the nation as a whole seems to be right behind the miners getting every dollar they can. Equally, there is no doubt that even while they were in the cave, "Todd'n'Brant" were acutely conscious of the value of their story. Asked by their rescuers to take pictures of each other and their surrounds, they agreed, but only if they could retain the copyright - which was agreed to!

... one can't help but wonder how a Beaconsfield rescuer who'd risked his life to get to the trapped miners - and who now doesn't have a mine to work at for at least several months - might also be feeling.
There's no argument from me that the true heroes of the story are the rescuers. They volunteered, and that example of bravery is humbling. But what the world salivates for is the story of survival. We all know damn well that not all of us can be heroes, but by damn we hope that if we're ever trapped in a disaster that we too might survive. There's no denying the power of a survivor narrative.

The media columnists know that only too well. Way to bring down the opposition's ratings if they outbid you on the story, guys. Oh, don't watch that interview that our competitors spent millions on - Todd'n'Brant are nasty! Convenient that these stories are so easy to spin back onto the phenomenal power of the survival story if their own organisation wins the bidding in the end, too. Spin, spin, spin.


I teach at a public school, that's why I'm sending my daughter to a Catholic high school

This was actually said to me by the mother of one of the tigling's yearmates in the supermarket this afternoon. WTF?

Apart from the distraction that I'm pretty sure she's a teacher's aide rather than a teacher (so why tell me a fib?), this attitude is important. It's one that I'm seeing more and more from the middle-class suburbanites around me, coupled with horror stories about the gangs and criminal parents at the local State high school. Obviously, if all the educated and socially-aspiring families opt out of public education, we'll end up with public schools that are even more underfunded and unable to provide their students with all the facilities that a parent could wish. I wonder how many of these parents realise they're buying into just another example of white flight type hysteria.

I went to an inner city high school open night this week, looking at a high school for the tigling, and was very impressed with the facilities. The tigling's eyes were popping at the art rooms, she was thrilled by the science lab demos, and the band made her sax-playing fingers tap. And they support girls playing rugby (her most recent dream). This public high school has matriculation results equal to the best private and selective schools.

I realise that not all public high schools are as well resourced as this one I visited, but if people were committed to public education instead of making life even more financially difficult for themselves by running away from it to fees-based schools, more and more of our public schools could be like this one. More of our public high schools are safe, supportive, enhanced environments than most critics and rumourmongers would credit - they just can't be bothered going to take a look.

Some great posts this week about public vs private/"independent" schooling at Crazybrave and Blogger on the Cast Iron Balcony.

Read it

March by Geraldine Brooks. The adventures and travails of Mr March, father of Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy during the year that the events of Little Women take place, and the memories of times past that led him to be there. The romantic veil torn away from the rhetoric of the Civil War, to smell the stink of blood and pus, sewage and arson: abolitionist idealism betrayed by pragmatism and prejudice.

And for those of us who remember Little Women fondly, justice to the source is done, although March wears Little Women lightly, and we see the daughters through letters and moments of sentimental recall only. March gives us the parents, especially Mr March, and shows them imperfect.

Especially for those of us who adored rebellious Jo and wilful Amy, but repressed our resentment of the inhumanly saintly role model served up to us in Marmee (a feminist thesis all on its own, Allcott's version of Marmee), Brooks not only gives her flesh and bone but gut and sinew. Mr March likewise doubts his ideology, wisdom and motives continually. The model marriage of the perfect parents that their daughters see - selfless, supportive wife and wise, noble husband - is riddled with resentments and regrets over misunderstandings and material want in proportion to the strength of the Marches' heartfelt yearnings for social justice and moral perfection.

If you're not a fan of first-person narratives replete with moral introspection, this may not be for you. There are no happy romantic subplots or comic mishaps once the senior Marches are away from Concord. This book was painful in parts, and at times I had to put it down to digest the events. But I think I love this book.

I'll be searching out Brooks' earlier novel Year of Wonders presently.

Day-After-Friday Random 10 - "Holy Fuck I'm the mother of a teenager" edition

I'm sure it was only yesterday he was riding a trike around with his little sister in the pillion seat.

I think I'm now officially middle-aged.

Egypt - Mental As Anything
Gonna Run U Over - Coda
Tupelo - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
I Can Make You a Man (Reprise) - The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Think - Aretha Franklin
Air a Danser - Penguin Cafe Orchestra
Once I Had a Love - Blondie
Lucky 7 -Coda
Like Soldiers Do - Billy Bragg
Time After Time - Tuck & Patti

Finally got a random 10 with some Aussie content! Coda are a classical-folk-punk fusion band here in Sydney, and the Mentals had their biggest hits in the 80s but are still going strong.

Tuck & Patti's cover of Time after Time is fantastic - Patti has a rich smoky smooth voice which gives the song an entirely different mood, and Tuck'g guitar is his own personal blend of jazz-classical with a touch of fingerpicking licks. This ties in with a great post on cover-songs by Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon and crossposted at Michael Berube's, with covers you've never heard coming out of the woodwork on both threads.


What is it with chicken soup and 'flu?

My fingers smell of bacon.

I've just roughly chopped up a bacon hock which had been simmering in chicken stock which had been poured over onions and garlic sauteed in olive oil. I've now returned the chopped bacon meat to the stock and added the split peas which I put on to soak earlier today, before I took to my bed to sleep off my muzzy head and aching neck.

I was inspired to do so by having finally, after feeling miserably hungry but not able to decide what to eat that didn't make me faintly nauseated, suddenly remembering I had some packet chicken and corn soup. A few minutes later, after the powder had transformed a cup of just boiled water whilst I yet again spent more time than I prefer to in the smallest room, I slurped that soup down with great relish. Ahhh - at last I felt I could get some sleep. But what to do for dinner tonight?

The thought of going to the shops specially for chicken necks to make soup horrified. What did I already have? Split peas in the pantry from last winter - stored properly, so fine. Yes! - bacon hock in the freezer, also left over from last winter (spring sprung suddenly last year). Commercial chicken stock in the pantry - not so good as fresh, but better than nowt. Herbs from the garden for a bouquet garni. Onions and garlic. Comfort food. Peasant food, requiring simple ingredients, some thinking ahead for preparation, and a long cooking time which can be whiled away with necessary chores (or in the case of 'fluridden bloggers, revisiting a favourite escapist high-fantasy novel).

The garlic bread (again from the freezer, from whence alsocame the frozen pizza I popped in the oven for the kids a couple of hours ago) has just been popped into the oven when I took a brief break from composing this post, and when I hit publish I'll quickly grab my stick-blender and give a couple of quick whizzes so that the soup is thick thick thick.

No booze for me tonight with my 'flu, but were I my usual self I would accompany the soup and bread with a nice nutty stout or a dry hock style white.

Bon Appetit, all.


Still high from the rescue

The Australian Treasurer Peter Costello delivered his annual Budget Speech last night, which by all accounts panders to just about everyone a little bit but not enough. Milkshakes all round! There's not much blogging response to that yet (some mentions at Larvatus Prodeo, Anonymous Lefty , Electron Soup , Queer Penguin , Machine Gun Keyboard . These are all my fellow moaning lefties, but I'm sure Catallaxy and Tim Blair will have stuff from the other side later in the day).

But we'd all still much rather think about the miners. The newspapers are still full of them, and certainly every time another little nugget comes up on the radio I get a big goofy grin.

Addendum: how could I have forgotten to link to a photo gallery?

The Australian has a strong collection of "Great Escape" stories today:

Eye to eye with valuable quarry
Recounts what went on underground between the digging, drilling and blasting, with especial mention of the black humour that sustained both miners and rescuers through the danger:

Dean "Macca" Mackrell, 37, spent much of the past fortnight in the mine's "morale group", talking to the men.

He spent a lot of it "shit-stirring", he says at the Club Hotel in Beaconsfield, which opened just after dawn and was soon filled with miners. One of the first things he asked Russell and Webb when a communication line was established was how the Jenny Craig diet was going.

After rescuers managed to get a 9cm PVC communication pipe through to the men, which became their lifeline, delivering food and water, and later little luxuries such as iPods, Mackrell says he could hear Webb singing.

He put his mouth down to the pipe and in a low voice said: "This is Big Brother. You are singing without a microphone. That is a $5000 fine." He says Webb and Russell "roared with laughter".


Darren Flanagan, an explosives expert from Nowra in NSW, described how during blasting stages of the rescue, he and Russell and Webb would do their countdowns together, the two trapped miners bracing for impact while Flanagan held a phone in one hand and a firing box in the other. He says that at one stage, Russell, knowing he had 1000 tonnes of rock on top of him that could bury them both, called him "a big girl" because he thought the explosives he was using were too weak.


Despite nine days of anticipation, no one was prepared for the moment when Russell and Webb walked unassisted out of the minehead. Or when Webb yelled as he left the mine in the back of an ambulance: "You can't kill me - you can't kill me." Or, four hours later, when he simply checked himself out of Launceston General Hospital.

The Australian: At last, the light of day

Essay in the Australian:John Birmingham: Tragedy, triumph and farce
Sorrow and joy will coexist while the meaning of Beaconsfield is contested, says John Birmingham.

Herald Sun: Miners' fitness stuns doctors

Many people have said how made for a movie treatment this great story is. Crikey had a great script outline article in their email newsletter yesterday, where I learnt something that even the attending media didn't realise at the time. Did you know that this story even has a faithful dog?

Most ozbloggers have stuck to the miners' story like glue, because it's the most riveting drama to unfold for such a long time, but I think I like Anonymous Lefty's take on the rescue and the media reaction to it best.


objectification 101 for fanboys

Flattering appreciation or skin-crawling creepiness?

UPDATE: belated hat-tip to Alas, a blog. Anyone who enjoyed this should try another of Ampersand's recommendations, Mad Melancholic Feminista: Sex and Gender in Firefly and Battlestar Galactica

And don't web networks operate in funny ways? I saw Ampersand's link, sent it to a mailing list I've been on for yonks, Stephan there forwarded it to TNH at Making Light, where BoingBoing saw it. Karen's comment thread already numbered well over a hundred long before BoingBoing linked to it, but I suspect it's about to go wild.

Feministe and Pandagon also have posts up on Karen's collection of mock-covers. There's a fine stoush going on in the comments at Feministe. And now Twisty's weighed in on the issue of supernutsacks.

Mommy's a Republican? - nooooo!

A mailing list I'm on is having way to much fun captioning this, so I had to share:

Snark away.

Beaconsfield Rollercoaster

Todd Russell (L) and Brant Webb walk from the mine lift after being rescued.
Ian Waldie/Getty Images from Melbourne Herald Sun

Beaconsfield woke at 5am to the pealing of a church bell that had not been rung for decades to let them know the two miners had been freed. They gathered at the gates of the mine waiting to see their neighbours walk out an hour later, and cheered them like mad.

This morning Beaconsfield is smiling. This afternoon Beaconsfield will have time for more sombre reflection, with the funeral in Launceston of Larry Knight, the miner who didn't make it out alive. Russell and Webb want to be there if they are medically cleared, and the ceremony will be a chance for the town to finally let out all the emotions of the last two weeks.

What a day.


Fetal Brain Development: Myths and Disinformation

In her discussion on the NYT article I blogged earlier, Jill of Feministe says:

An interesting thing about growing up and living in the United States for your entire life, as I have, is that you really do believe all the things that Americans say about America. You believe that the United States is one of the most progressive countries in the world. You believe that we're at the forefront of technology, of women's rights, of human rights. You believe that people here have access to the best and most comprehensive medical care and information.

Then you find out that you were sorta wrong. And that's a fantastic disappointment.

I can already here the conservatives saying, "But look at how good you have it! You could be living in Iran!" Sure, and women in Iran could be living in Afghanistan. See how lucky they are?

The insularity of the USA makes it easy for their leaders to tell they're world leaders in every field when that is simply not so - they're the richest, sure - that doesn't mean they provide their citizens with the best. And particularly what US citizens don't get the best of is sex education at the most crucial time - pre-teen and teen years. And the anti-choice/contra-contraception activists want it to stay that way, and they deceive people in order to carry out their agenda.

This is a good jumping off point for me on a particular piece of anti-choice misinformation that's been bugging me for a while. As in the quote below about the 43-day-old-fetus from the NYT article on Contra Contraception:

A December 2004 report on federally financed abstinence-only programs conducted by the office of Representative Henry Waxman, Democrat of California, charged that the major programs presented misleading information about health (one curriculum quoted in the report stated that "condoms fail to prevent H.I.V. approximately 31 percent of the time"), state beliefs as facts (the report cited a curriculum that refers to a 43-day-old fetus as a "thinking person") and give outmoded stereotypes of the sexes.
Another post I recently read on a website called, posted by a purported high-school student CrystalJ, gives here reasons for believing abortion is wrong (fine, don't have one), where she also argues that science supports her view (misspellings hers, italics emphasis mine):

There are also many medical arguments against abortion.

One argument is the definiton of life and death. Death is looked at there being no heartbeat, but when you really think about it, once a child is formed in the womb, you will here thier heartbeat by 18 days old. You may say no death is described as when there is no brain waves. Babies have functioning brains at 40 days old. The unborn child also feels pain as early as 8 weeks old. The fetus also has a genetic patterns different from the mother and a set a fingerprints all to its self.

Now, having done a fair amount of university biology, I knew that this fetal-brain claim was entirely bogus, and I thought I could maybe add a nice little debunking of this factoid to my pseudoscience series. But Google showed my my plan was unnecessary, because Margaret Sykes (previously of has already written the article, and although it pains my hubris, she's done a much better job than I could have.
The assertion is made over and over again that "fetal brain activity" has been observed or "fetal brain waves" have been measured at 40, 43, or 45 days, or at 6 weeks after fertilization. You can find the claim in "pro-life" and sometimes even nonmedical pro-choice literature. Sometimes a reference is cited, but most often not. This false information has passed into the general understanding about fetal development and is simply stated as fact. It is however a factoid instead, which is the name for a statement repeated often enough that people accept it as truth, though it's not.
Sykes digs through the generations of pamphlets citing other pamphlets to find the original science on which the factoid is based, and comes up with a cite from a 1964 AMA convention speech transcript (not a research paper at all) published in the JAMA arguing for brain function rather than heart function to determine cessation of life, and a 1982 letter (not a peer-reviewed paper) published in the NEJM. As Sykes says, "no original research is being described here, which makes it dishonest and misleading to quote it as the source of a claim".

The quotes used by 'pro-lifers', when laid out in formal cite form, certainly do look impressive to anyone not in the habit or reading the original paper to evaluate a scientist's conclusions:

At only 40 days after fertilization electrical waves as measured by the EEG can be recorded from the baby's brain, indicating brain functioning47, 48.

47. Hamlin, H. (1964), "Life or Death by EEG," Journal of the American Medical Association, October 12, 113.

Brain function, as measured on the Electroencephalogram, "appears to be reliably present in the fetus at about eight weeks gestation," or six weeks after conception.

J. Goldenring, "Development of the Fetal Brain," New England Jour. of Med., Aug. 26, 1982, p. 564
Sykes dissects the misuse of these citations (both should strictly mention the status as convention proceedings/letters rather than research papers), showing that both of these opinion pieces incorrectly summarise science that is now either discredited or obsolete (and always refers to "electrical activity" rather than "brain waves"), then goes on to detail what medical science actually does show about the development of a functioning human brain:

When people, including physicians, talk about "brain waves" and "brain activity" they are referring to organized activity in the cortex. While no embryo or fetus has ever been found to have "brain waves," extensive EEG studies have been done on premature babies. A very good summary of their findings can be found in Pain and its effects in the human neonate and fetus," a review article (often cited by "pro-lifers" writing about fetal pain, but not about brain development) by K.J.S. Anand, a leading researcher on pain in newborns, and P.R. Hickey, published in NEJM:

"Functional maturity of the cerebral cortex is suggested by fetal and neonatal electroencephalographic patterns...First, intermittent electroencephalograpic bursts in both cerebral hemispheres are first seen at 20 weeks gestation; they become sustained at 22 weeks and bilaterally synchronous at 26 to 27 weeks."
The irony of citing Hamlin and Goldenring as anti-abortion apologetics is that both of them mentioned fetal brain activity casually and tangentially in any case - both opinion pieces were arguing for the wider acceptance of the EEG as the final arbiter of the death of the individual, as without a functioning brain the body is just a collection of tissue. Indeed, Sykes notes that this is the crux of the point the anti-abortionists are arguing in their promulgation of this factoid:

all authorities accept that the end of an individual's life is measured by the ending of his brain function (as measured by brain waves on the EEG), would it not be logical for them to at least agree that individual's life began with the onset of that same human brain function as measured by brain waves recorded on that same instrument? (in Willke's Abortion: Questions and Answers)

The trouble is that there is no scientific basis for the "functioning brain at 40 days" claim, no matter how often the factoid is repeated.

As a secondary matter, I note the mythologising process at work in the way the factoid has developed. The original overclaims by Hamlin and Goldenring drop the scientific exactitude of "electrical brain activity " for the more vernacular "brain function" and "electrical waves", and this allows some who read it and lack the proper knowledge of the widely varying types of electrical activity recorded by EEGs to make an unjustified leap, and thus the myth of early fetal "brainwaves" is born.

CrystalJ, the highschool student referenced above, cited Kerby Anderson's Arguments Against Abortion as the source of her claims. Anderson wrote:
Physicians now use a more rigorous criterion for death: brain wave activity. A flat EEG (electroencephalograph) is one of the most important criteria used to determine death. If the cessation of brain wave activity can define death, could the onset of brain wave activity define life? Individual brain waves are detected in the fetus in about 40-43 days. Using brain wave activity to define life would outlaw at least a majority of abortions.
Anderson provides no references for his fetal brain waves claim. Notice then how CrystalJ leaps from "individual brain waves" to "functioning brain" in her summary of the medical arguments.

ADDENDUM: Anderson's argument also totally misunderstands what a "flat EEG" is. A brain-dead person with a functioning heart/lungs/brainstem will still show electrical activity in the brain, but they won't show the particular "brainwaves" that are characteristic of the higher cortical functions of cognition. So the whole EEG isn't "flat", just the part of the EEG profile that shows a thinking person is using that brain tissue.

These people believe the factoid that has been passed down and grown ever more dramatic as it goes. They really do. They don't mean to tell falsehoods (at least most of them don't know any better), but that's what they're doing. If only they understood that a large number of pro-choicers also base their abortion beliefs on neurological maturity of the fetus, they just use actual facts to do it instead of factoids.

When the shapers of public policy and health education fall for such factoids as well, then you get the situation which so disappointed Jill when she first came up against the true facts: the richest country in the world does not provide "the best and most comprehensive medical care and information" to its citizens. Given the attitudes displayed by various politicians in Canberra regarding the RU486 debate, we need to be vigilant that our citizens are provided with the best standards of care and information as well.

UPDATE 19th May 2006: my sitemeter shows that this post has become the #1 entry page for people coming to the blog from a search engine, using variations on 'fetal brain waves', 'fetal brain development' and 'fetal brain 40 days'. Commentor "worldpeace and aspeedboat" over at Moment to Moment was moved to pedantry (a favorite hobby of mine own) over spelling fetal vs. foetal and fetus vs. foetus, so I'm going to add those more Commonwealth spellings here purely to widen the hits on search engines, as obviously people are looking for the information. Besides, I agree the 'oe' spelling looks more elegant.

ALP going forward with decriminalisation platform

As I blogged about last week: if the ALP wins the Victorian election, Victoria will join Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT in decriminalising abortion entirely by removing abortion from the Crimes Act, placing all regulation of this particular surgical procedure under the Health Act with all the other surgical regulations.

When will NSW, QLD and the NT see some sense?

NYT: the anti-contraceptive movement

There's a growing trend amongst religious conservatives, not just Catholics, to inveigh against all forms of family-planning, not just abortion. It's worthwhile for Australians to examine the rhetoric of the anti-choice contra-contraception crowd in the USA, because it's their religiously motivated social conservatism which is more and more informing the reproductive rights debate here, as witnessed by the stoush in Parliament a few months ago about RU486.

The NYT examines the trend in "Contra Contraception":
Dr. Joseph B. Stanford, who was appointed by President Bush in 2002 to the F.D.A.'s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee despite (or perhaps because of) his opposition to contraception, sounded not a little like Daniel Defoe in a 1999 essay he wrote: "Sexual union in marriage ought to be a complete giving of each spouse to the other, and when fertility (or potential fertility) is deliberately excluded from that giving I am convinced that something valuable is lost. A husband will sometimes begin to see his wife as an object of sexual pleasure who should always be available for gratification."
God forbid the wife might like to use the husband as an object of sexual pleasure without risking pregnancy once in a while! Or, you know, say no to him if she didn't feel like having sex for any particular reason.

The article provides a good range of views:
"[...] some who work in the public health field acknowledge that the social conservatives have a point. "I think the left missed something in the last couple of decades," says Sarah Brown, president of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which positions itself as a moderate voice in the heated world of reproductive politics. "With the advent of oral contraception, I think there was this great sense that we had a solution to the problem of unintended pregnancy. But that is a medical model. I think the thing that was missed was that sex and pregnancy and relationships aren't just a health issue. They are really about family and gender and religion and values. And what the right did was move in and say we're not just talking about body parts."
I dunno. This strikes me as a straw-leftist argument - I was raised by left-leaning sex-positive parents who made sure I knew all about the medical model of preventing unintended pregnancy, but who also taught me that sex should be about what I want in a personal relationship, not just about rubbing body parts together for immediate gratification (unless I was really very very horny). The result of this individual autonomy and agency approach is that unlike most of the other girls at high-school on the party circuit I was still a virgin because I didn't want my first sexual experiences to be furtive fumblings in the back of a car, so I waited until I'd left home for uni and had my own place where I could be more in control and relaxed.

The emphasis on sexual freedoms as just a medical model of body parts rather than as an act of autonomy, especially female autonomy, is more about the way the centrist consumerist model co-opted sexual freedoms into "sexiness", the ultimate marketing tool. So while I agree that the left at large failed to maintain the initial emphasis on sexual autonomy, I can't agree that the left is to blame for overemphasis on sex as just about body parts - that's all about corporatism and sell sell sell.

The Right has however been very effective in framing the trivialisation of sex as mere body parts as part of the leftist manifesto, because it's a very good way of scaring people away from true leftist positions of considered autonomy that don't involve submitting to your husband's sexual desires no matter what your own are even if the thought of another pregnancy makes you feel dead inside.

The NYT article also mentions our favourite contra-contraception event.

Other blog commentary:
Feministe's Jill focuses on the deception and misinformation used by the contra-contraception activists
Pandagon's Amanda reminds us that the battle against contraception is tied up with a view of sexual freedom as an elite privilege that the poor don't deserve
(and Natasha in comments notes that (A) restriction of sexual freedoms to the elites is typical primate behaviour of the most animalistic alpha-male sort, and thus surely not attributable to the noble revelations of a higher power as the social conservatives argue; (B) conservative leaders on the whole are clear hypocrites who do not practise what they preach regarding family-planning - see Bush and his two children from a single pregnancy, and all the other social conservatives conspicuously lacking a dozen children )