Sunday, 24 July 2011

What we wear is a personal choice. Simple as that.

Recently, the issue of what people should be allowed to wear has been raised in Australia, yet again.  The range of arguments are always based on some pre-conceived idea that one person knows better than another.  Frankly, I can't fathom why anyone would have the arrogance to impose their views on what people should look like.

The burka - it's the woman's choice - like any other dress code

On Q&A on Monday, muslim woman Susan Carland was asked her view on women covering their face.  Her response reflected a mature, balanced view.

" in the end I think a person or a woman should be able to choose how much of her body she shows to other people and if she wants to cover her face and she feels comfortable with that and the laws of our society say that she can, then get over it. You know, I might not feel comfortable looking at people with a face covered in tattoos and a Mohawk but that’s their prerogative. If they want to dress like that, then that’s my issue if I can’t deal with it.

So, Carland is saying that it's the responsibility of the person viewing the individual.

I don't like tattoos, but that's my problem

Like Susan Carland, I'm not a big fan of tattoos, and like her, I agree that is my issue.  I have nothing against Collingwood footballer Dayne Beams, or Miss Bombshell, with all of their ink.  Yes, of course it projects an image - and they are entitled to project that image, and dress their bodies in that way.

Who cares what Kate Ellis wears? Other women apparently

Kate Ellis in Grazia
Last year, Kate Ellis appeared in a fashion spread in Grazia magazine, and last month she appeared on the front cover of the Fairfax press Sunday Life section.  In both shoots, she was dressed in what would generally be called fashionable clothing - including tall heels.  Now Kate Ellis is the Minister for the Status of Women, her appearances in those magazines have attracted scores of comments - mainly critical.

Today's Sunday Life carried a follow up article on the controversy. Women had written in with comments such as "the wearing of super-high stiletto heels represents women as vain, attention-seeking, foolish and potential victims".

Really?? Kate Ellis responds in the article that she wears similar clothes to the office as she wore in the Sunday Life shoot.  So, because she is tall and attractive, women are imposing their own biases.  Again, it's their problem, not hers.

How many times do we need to say it - no woman is a "victim" because of what they wear.  Praise be the Slut Walks
Boston Slut Walk, May 2011

The more times we read comments that accuse women of being victims because of what they wear, the more respect we should all have for the Slut Walks. I've blogged about the issues of dress codes and the Slut Walks before, but the message isn't getting through.

When strong, intelligent women such as Kate Ellis are criticised for dressing as she does, women certainly need a strong voice to stand up for their rights.  Slut Walks are continuing around the world - in cities as diverse as Boston, Seoul and Delhi, and long may they continue.

People will judge you based on what you wear, but that's their problem.  Be who you want to be.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Saturday, 16 July 2011

It's time for a national debate on drug laws - decriminalise and regulate

According to 2009 calculations, the war on drugs in Australia costs $4.7bn. That's slightly more than the entire compensation package for the carbon tax. The debates about drug laws have been topical for decades, and it's time we looked closely at them again. The current system isn't working, and it's illogical.

If we want to minimise harm, shouldn't we prohibit the most harmful drugs? Probably not.

The argument for prohibition centres on the harm caused by drugs.  If this really was the reason, then the drugs that are prohibited should be the ones that are the most harmful.  Unfortunately, this isn't what happens.  A paper published in the Lancet in 2007 by Professor David Nutt from the University of Bristol showed that the drugs that are most harmful are not the ones that are prohibited.

The following chart shows 20 substances ranked by harm, as assessed by a nine category matrix of harm and expert assessment. I have added the two orange bars to divide the drugs into three equal categories.

As you can see from their findings, the banned drugs cover the most harmful such as heroin and cocaine to the least harmful such as ecstasy.  It also shows that our most popular legal drug, alcohol, is in the most harmful category - even worse than tobacco.

So, if we want to ban the most harmful drugs, we should ban alcohol.  Of course, that was tried in the 1920s and led to catastrophic crime in the US.  It was a trial that failed.

What's the next alternative? Should everything be legal? Maybe.

There are many proponents of the legalisation approach, including many countries.   Robbie Swan's article in the Canberra Times this week explained that the results have been overwhelmingly positive.

Calls for legalisation have come from a range of respected sources such as doctors.  GP, Wendell Rosevear was quoted at the Australia 2020 summit saying "I want to give drug addicts choices and I want to legalise all drugs in Australia."

There is a better alternative - regulate and tax.

In between these options of prohibition/enforcement and legalisation, there is another option.  We can regulate, tax and manage.

Those who are in favor of small government oppose regulation on principle.  I'm not one of those.  Well regulated industries are commonplace in Australia, and they generally work well.  Our pharmaceutical industry is carefully regulated.  Why shouldn't the recreational drug industry be the same.

I won't try to suggest the best methods of regulating drugs - but I support Robbie Swan's perspective in the Canberra Times article:

Over the past few decades the use of all recreational drugs has been on the increase except one tobacco. Cigarette smoking is the only recreational drug use that is in decline and that is because governments have control over the product including its packaging, point of sale, price and, most importantly, public health and education campaigns.

Let's start this debate.  Let's make it sensible, and logical.  Rather than prohibiting a randomly chosen set of substances, let's regulate all recreational drugs for the benefit of all.

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Correction: The article originally stated that "The most notable of these is Portugal, which legalised personal possession of drugs in 2001." Portugal decriminalised drugs, they did not legalise them.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Julia Gillard to Press Club: "Don't write crap". News Ltd fails to listen on sex slave story.

While Julia Gillard was presenting a well-reasoned and factual case for the carbon tax, News Limited were proving again how lacklustre they are at journalism.  In response to Mark Riley's question about the press corp, her succinct advice was "don't write crap".

Olga the Russian karate hairdresser and bondage mistress hoax

Who is Olga really?
Unfortunately, while the PM was handing out this excellent advice, News Ltd weren't paying attention in class.  Today they ran with "Hairdresser karate kicks bandit, ties him up, feeds him Viagra and uses him as sex slave for three days"

It turns out that this is another one of those great "let's print a story even thought it's two years old" episodes.

According to the Courier-Mail, and most other News titles running the story, this was about a Russian hairdresser named Olga who supposedly was a karate black belt, overcome a robber named Viktor, tied him up and used him as a sex slave, feeding him Viagra for three days.

They took it from the UK's Daily Mail: Robber who broke into hair salon is beaten by its black-belt owner and kept as a sex slave for three days... fed only Viagra

The only problem is, the story is at least 2 years old! Hairdresser turns robber into sex-slave was first published in on 14 April 2009 and the Moscow Times on 15 April 2009 Hair Stylist Keeps Armed Robber as Sex Slave.

Don't you guys all learn!!

What's amazing about all this is that a simple search brings up a story two days ago on Forbes: Same Old Sex Slave, Brand New Gawker Story. So, not only didn't News do any checks, they actually missed the checks that others had done that proved it wasn't recent.

But there's more.  After ninemsn screwed up, they even posted a retraction yesterday! Correction: Salon owner kept robber as sex slave. That would be a major Australian site, guys. *sigh*

So, News Limited hack phones, copy articles and can't even plagiarise corrections properly!!

Let me know what you think

Mark S

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Autism - Not a disability - But more common that you might think.

One of the most misunderstood neurological conditions is the Autism Spectrum.  I admit I certainly had a very weak understanding until recently.  The most important lesson is that: "Auties" are not disabled.

Why is this so important? Well, in the May Federal Budget, the Government announced over $2b of investment into mental health services (excellent). However, a lot of this money focuses on treating disorders, rather than assisting individuals to recognise and cope with their differences.  Autism is a classic case.

What is Autism Spectrum? It's not a disability. 

There are a lot of different definitions of Autism Spectrum.  Some get lumped in with the disabilities, as shown by the announcement of the $146m Helping Children with Autism package by Senator Jan McLucas, who is the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers.  Here, Autism is bundled together with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, Fragile X syndrome, and moderate or severe vision or hearing impairments, including deafblindness. The package is fantastic, but the connection with disability is quite inappropriate.

Here is a much better definition from Open University, UK:

Autism involves three characteristic areas of difficulty. 
  • People with autism find it hard to interact socially with others or to make friends...
  • They also have communication difficulties...
  • Lastly, people with autism tend to have narrow interests...

If you want to take a quick quiz on what is real about autism, click here for a great little exercise.

Auties and Aspies are different to "neurotypicals" - it's neurodiversity

Over the last decade, there has been a growing understanding that some people are wired differently to the norm.  The phrase for this difference is neurodiversity.  Here are a couple of definitions:

People experience the world differently based on their neurological attributes, which are equally valid, unique, and socially beneficial experiences of the world that should be celebrated.

The world is going to need all of the different kinds of minds to work together
- Temple Grandin
[Temple Grandin is a world expert on animal behavior and consultant to the livestock industry.  She is also autistic, and an advocate for autistics.  (For a great 20 minutes, watch her TED talk, especially the last 3 minutes of Q&A)]

Nearly 3% of the population may be autistic

Over recent years, the proportion of people with autism has been rising.  Well, actually, the proportion hasn't changed at all - it's been our improved understanding and measurement that is revealing how prevalent it is.

In 2002, estimates for autism spectrum were around 0.6% (CDC)

In 2010-11, according to Autism Victoria, 1% of people are on the autism spectrum.

But the most recent data from Yale Child Studies Center expert Dr. Young Shin Kim, has shown a prevalence rate of 2.64%. This study in Seoul is predicted to be very similar in other countries and cultures.

So, with nearly 3% of the population having autistic characteristics, that's a lot of neurodiversity to embrace.  If we see autism as a valuable asset to our society, everyone will be richer for it.

Let me know what you think

Mark S