Monday, February 8, 2010

This blog has moved

I have moved this blog, and the contents - but not yet the comments - to - my new website.

More will be happening over at once I get Dreamweaver going and keep playing around. Head on over to have a look when stuff is done (give me a week).

Thursday, January 7, 2010


It's been a while since I blogged... the whole moving house, having house dramas, Christmas, New Year and desperately searching for work has not helped at all. I have a large number of topics to write on stashed away, and today am going to write on Frutose, and why it is bad for you.

This post was insprired, partly, by meloukhia's excellent blog, and by her recent post on Bad Science Reporting. meloukhia's post was specifically relating to bad science journalism and how misreported this study was, however I find the study interesting from my own experiences.

I have Fructose Malabsorption, this is a condition in which my body has enormous difficulty in processing foods that are high in fructose such as apples, pears, mangos, and melons and foods high in fructan such as onions, wheat, legumes, and cabbage. I can no longer eat dried fruit, drink fruit juice or have dishes containing tomato paste (or any concentrated form of fruit). To quote Wikipedia:

"Fructose malabsorption ... is a digestive disorder of the small intestine in which the fructose carrier in enterocytes is deficient. This problem results in the concentration of fructose in the entire intestine to be increased. Fructose malabsorption is found in approximately 30-40% of the population of Central Europe, with about half of the affected individuals exhibiting symptoms."

Basically if I consume foods high in fructose I face intense stomach cramps and diarrhoea for up to 3 days after the consumption of food. This isn't a condition I've had my whole life, this is something that has gradually gotten worse over the past 5 years. But that happens... bodies sometimes, for reasons we don't understand, decide that they are intolerant or allergic to something after repeated exposure.

Oh... and have a look at the foods I cannot eat... This makes eating out difficult - onion is typically in EVERYTHING, and it is very hard to know if something contains tomato paste... so I typically avoid everything tomato-y when eating out these days.

Anyway... so fructose is bad for me. Fructose is also bad for those with irritable bowel syndrome as discussed by Shepherd and Gibson (2006). In fact many of the symptoms described in that paper match how I feel... and I really need to see a dietician to find out what I can and cannot eat so I stop inadvertently eating foods I shouldn't.

Anyway... back to the recent study on fructose and it being bad for you. There is a good report here about the study, including a comment from one of the authors of the study. Basically it found that the members of the study who had a high fructose diet gained extra abdominal fat... quoting from the article linked to above:

"...unlike glucose, some of which passes through the liver and is then excreted, 100% of fructose that’s consumed is taken up by the liver. This is turn leads to increased fat deposition in the abdominal cavity and increased blood levels of triglycerides—both of which are risk factors for heart disease and diabetes."

I'm actually interested in a lot more of these studies. As someone who struggles to identify what I can and cannot eat if fructose becomes something that must be more clearly reported on in food and medications, then my life is going to be much easier. Right now I avoid everything with apples, juice (no more sorbet), pears, and high fructose corn syrup (thankfully not highly used in Australia), and I am attempting to cut down on wheat consumption - and I bake goddamnit... what am I supposed to bake with when I cannot consume wheat?

Fructose malabsorption can be a debilitating condition at times, I feel exhausted and weak when it is really bad. Once I have a settled diet, I will have all the energy I need and more, hopefully.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Understatement of the month

After a gang rape at a school dance in the US:

"‘‘Obviously we’ve had some breakdowns. Obviously, it was not safe because this happened,’’ said Charles Ramsey, a West Contra Costa school district board member. ‘‘Should we have had higher awareness, should we have been more vigilant? Probably.’’"

No... that last world should be YES.

If people felt that gang raping a 15 year old girl was ok, there are a lot of things wrong with that school. I don't really know where to begin with the list of things that are wrong either... apart from EVERYTHING. At least the police are actively investigating the rape and assaults and hopefully the judicial system will not use the "oh but she asked for it" line.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Australia and secularism

When I read or hear something, particularly someone's opinions about a subject, I try and apply it to my own experience and see if it fits. When something doesn't fit in within my experience its harder to understand the concept... maybe I'm simplifying things here, but having experience of something, positive or negative, or even just because its nearby and not something I've directly experienced, makes it easier to identify, positively or negatively with an opinion or experience of someone else.

I used to interview people seeking asylum in Australia and am used to having to understand situations far beyond my experience and knowledge. I have had to consider trauma, torture, gross discrimination and abuse in relation to people sitting in front of me that I barely know and who have gone through situations I can barely imagine. So, I do get that I have not lived a life full of everyone's experiences, and nor would I want to.

But when I see a nation, that for all intents and purposes appears to be like my own country (Australia), specifically the US, I think that perhaps things should be relatively similar. Because they purport to be on TV and other media. With one HUGE exception... religion.

I spend quite a lot of time reading atheist blogs all of which are based in the US. I read about their desire for community, discussions about who is representing atheism and how, what atheism is, and how to make a stand for their beliefs (or lack of them depending on how you look at it) without losing family, friends or their jobs.

Big parts of these blogs don't resonate with me, and I've been trying to put my finger on it, and finally did when I stumbled across an article in the free newspaper that is available each weekday evening at train stations in Melbourne.

Before I announce my revelation (which is in the title anyway), I do want to state that I am by no means dismissing the experience of atheists in the US or any other devoutly religious country and the experiences they have to go through to hold their heartfelt beliefs. This post is about my experiences and how they differ from atheists in the US.

Anyway... back to my thoughts and revelation. Australia is an incredibly secular country. In fact we've voted in a Prime Minister who was atheist, as well as other politicans and we clearly didn't mind. Sure we have religious whack jobs in Australia who attempt at various times to gain political power, but they tend not to gain an amount that threatens the secular nature of the country and often the next political party to gain power distances themselves from the religious whack jobs. I'm specifically thinking of the Exclusive Breathren an Pastor Danny Nalliah as the two biggest, and yet still very uninfluential, religious whack jobs that have attempted to gain some political leverage recently.

According to census data, thankfully provided in nice graphical form by Wikipedia (go on, click the link and read the article), Australia may be as much as 30% non-believers or atheists. In the 2006 census, 18.7% of people indicated that they had no religion and a further 11.9% of people did not answer the religious question (it was optional), which is where the 30% figure comes from. As "Australia the Confusing Country" written by Jeremy Lee attests, "Religion and politics are safe topics of conversation (Australians don't care too much about either) but sport is a minefield."

The Wikipedia article previously cited also states:
  • Although many Australians identify themselves as religious, the majority consider religion the least important aspect of their lives when compared with family, partners, work and career, leisure time and politics. This is reflected in Australia's church attendance rates, which are among the lowest in the world and in continuing decline
  • In a 2008 global Gallup poll, nearly 70% of Australians stated religion as having no importance, much higher than their American counterparts, and on par with similarly secular countries such as Japan, the Netherlands, Finland, and France. Only a few Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark) and post-Soviet states (Estonia) are markedly less religious.
  • The Sydney Morning Herald, an Australian newspaper with a centrist viewpoint, asked its readers "Would the world be better off without religion?". 81% responded in the affirmative (April 2009)
  • A 2006 study by Monash University, the Australian Catholic University and the Christian Research Association found that 52 per cent of Australians born between 1976 and 1990 have no belief in a God.
  • A 2008 Christian Science Monitor survey of 17 countries reported that youth from Australia and the United Kingdom were the least likely to observe religious practice or see any "spiritual dimension" to life.
So I get that Australia is far, far, far more secular than the United States. So much of the struggle that American atheists go through is not something that atheists in Australia even have to think about. There many be family issues for some atheists if they are coming from devoutly religious families, but generally the issues for American atheists are far different than those of Australian atheists. This is why I struggle to identify with issues raised by US atheists on blogs at times, because I'm living in a vastly more secular world.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Someone else doing it doesn't make you less guilty or wrong...

Look, look... they're doing it too, so we're not bad... Everyone else is doing it!


And adults who have sex with children are paedophiles, not "homosexuals attracted to sex with adolescent males"... because that's a sorry attempt to link homosexuality with paedophilia again. Research has demonstrated that homosexuality and paedophilia are not linked. If the clergy who were abusing children were homosexual, why aren't they off having sex with other adult men? Yes, crickets chirping again... how many gay people do you know? How many of them have sexual interest in children? I don't know a single one. I'm not saying that there many not be a paedophile who may also be homosexual, but its not homosexuals who are paedophiles... if anything, it may the other way around in a small number of cases. Men who prey sexually on boys (and children) usually self-identify as straight.

When The Vatican actually stops sheltering those of its clergy who are breaking not only the laws of the countries in which they are working, but also the Commandment that Jesus gave to love one another as He had loved them, then hopefully things might start to improve. That does involve a complete restructure of the power structures within the Catholic Church, and that requires a religion willing to change. One day a reformist might manage to wrest the Pope-hood from the cooling corpse of the previous Pope, but I don't expect that to happen in my lifetime, and I've got another good 50 years in me.

I heartily approve of this quote from the article above:

Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, head of the New York Board of Rabbis, said: ''Comparative tragedy is a dangerous path on which to travel. All of us need to look within our own communities. Child abuse is sinful and shameful and we must expel them immediately from our midst.''

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Some good religious blogs to read

Because you can never do too much reading.

The Friendly Atheist - Hemant Mehta posts on atheism and the separation of church and state
The Thomas Society - Jonathan Weyer is a campus minister in the US
Pharyngula - PZ Meyers sometimes also posts on science
Greta Christine - posts about atheism, sex and feminism (not usually at the same time)

Saturday, September 12, 2009


I'll start this post by detailing my beliefs. I was raised as Catholic, and stopped going to church because of the way the church is run pisses me off, and because I disagree with a substantial amount of doctrine.

I am not convinced on the existence or not of a God/ess and am hedging my bets at this stage. I'm not entirely convinced that Christianity has it right, or any religion on this planet actually... I'm a middle class, white, feminist... who is poly, kinky and bisexual... so that should give you enough background to understand where I'm coming from in this rant.

I will focus mainly on Christianity, because I feel more qualified to comment on that having grown up with and studied Christianity, but there will be bits when I take broad brush strokes at religion and faith in general - regardless of the actual make up of that faith.

This is going to get a little long, and has many links that back up my argument, so I want you to click on those and read them or view them in conjunction with this essay.

Faith and the state of mind

Those who believe in a god, who are religious and devoutly so, seem to suffer less stress and anxiety according to Science Daily. Unfortunately, this can mean that they don't stress or angst over errors they have made, including driving errors, political errors or other errors which may place peoples' lives at risk. Sure its positive that religion can make you less stressed, but when you're a political leader suggesting war or questionable interrogation methods against foreign combatants, I'd personally prefer you to stress about making an error and be 100% sure that you have made the right decision. If you believe that a god will look after you when you are behind the wheel of a car, surely actually driving well and according to road rules will make the road a safer place for you and your family and everyone else. Trust that you know how to drive, not that a deity will look after you.

As Inzlicht (from the above study) states:

"Obviously, anxiety can be negative because if you have too much, you're paralyzed with fear," he says. "However, it also serves a very useful function in that it alerts us when we're making mistakes. If you don't experience anxiety when you make an error, what impetus do you have to change or improve your behaviour so you don't make the same mistakes again and again?"

Studies have found that prayer actually physically changes your brain... well prayer/meditation.... so not just a quick prayer before bed, but deep involved prayer or meditation... seeking the divine. NPR reported on the changes that fixating on something can cause and a new field of neurology of "neurotheology".

Andrew Newberg, as reported in the NPR report, states:

"The more you focus on something — whether that's math or auto racing or football or God — the more that becomes your reality, the more it becomes written into the neural connections of your brain."

Newberg scanned several devout religious people, Buddhists, Franciscan Nuns and Sikhs, and looked at how their brains reacted when they meditated/prayed/chanted. He found that in relation to brain reaction, "There is no Christian, there is no Jewish, there is no Muslim, it's just all one."

Basically, religion, or any other focused activity, can sculpt your brain, and doing so can be a conscious choice, just as choosing to trust entirely in a deity and not questioning whether you have made mistakes or not is a semi-conscious choice. Personally I think that actually thinking about your actions would be lovely and if you want to sculpt your brain, please do it under guidance from a trained professional.

Blind faith

Blind faith annoys me. Blindly accepting what someone tells you without critically examining it, without thinking about whether or not what you are told is true, whether it matches with the reality that you are living within or even investigating it simply is lazy and sadly, all too frequent.

Many religions are accused of enforcing blind faith amongst their flock, with charismatic leaders not encouraging questioning, outside influence and basically inducing fear that the "other" is evil and Satan influenced.

Thanks to blind face we have "churches" like the Westboro Baptist Church and so called "Christian" pastors like Tom Estes. Neither which, if you look at what they preach and practice seem very Christian from what I was taught be a Christian.

The Friendly Atheist website has an interesting blog post commenting on a post from the naked pastor about those who return to church after a long absence/s. Stuff like:

One discovers almost immediately what the belief system to be embraced is. Critical and inquisitive thinking is generally not welcomed.

The lack of critical and inquisitive thinking causes problems in all sorts of areas, it can lead to suicide bombers (and did you know that the Tamil Tigers (a political organisation) were the first organisation to implement suicide bombing?), it can lead to violence and/or distrust of others who do not share your beliefs, it can lead to groups like the Westboro Baptist Church (for an interesting read on the Westboro Baptist Church, here is a blog written by someone who left) and basically isn't good for you or society in the long run.

Blind faith can lead to you accepting that shit happens in the world and not questioning why. In March 2009, a gunman wandered into an Illinois church and killed the pastor before stabbing himself and two others. Comment was made as follows:

"Our great God is not surprised by this, or anything," Nate Adams, executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association, said in a statement. "That he allows evil and free will to have their way in tragedies like this is a mystery in many ways. But we know we can trust him no matter what, and draw close to him in any circumstances." (The Age)

I have a big problem with this. This entire statement suggests pre-determinism and an omniscient deity. It also suggests that again putting all your faith in a god, will allow you to shrug off trauma and keep on moving. To suggest that perhaps god planned for a horribly traumatic thing to happen, is rather horrible.

I know that the question of, "if god exists, why is there suffering/evil in the world" troubles a lot of people, but to suggest that your god might have been aware of such evil and suffering about to happen and let it happen anyway, that kind of blind faith is unpalatable. It suggests to me that there is an element of "oh well, they deserved it/they must have done something wrong" which I think sucks. The world is indeed unfair, but the misfortunes of others are not deserved.


One thing many religions are very good at is hypocrisy. We can start with evangelical Christian pastors in the US condemning homosexuality and yet practising it, or being caught practising it. Because nothing spells condemning something you think is wrong like practising it. Here are some amusing blog posts about such things:

Unfortunately I can't find the amazing post I read a few years ago on a Unitarian Universalist website, or affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist church somehow... anyway. The author of this paper (and if someone has a link to it, that'd be lovely) states that the bible talks a whole lot more about looking after the poor than it does condemning homosexuals and that to focus on one act in the bible that is condemned when there are a multitude more passages about caring for the poor than there has been about condemning homosexuality.

Surely the Christian churches should be far more willing to care for poor people and deal with those less fortunate than themselves than to crusade on who has sex with who. Seriously, why is religion even in my bedroom?

People may remember the Leviticus challenge, as reported here, as a good suggestion as to why Leviticus is no longer relevant, and that quoting it to justify any form of homophobia is just silly.

Though apparently there are some churches suggesting that Jesus was actually pro-gay. Given the time in which Jesus lived (the Roman occupation of Israel), it is entirely possible that the Roman authorities he dealt with were homosexual or bisexual. As far as I am aware, Jesus made no comments on homosexuality at all (and yes I have read all the gospels).

A survey conducted by the "Pew Research Centre" and commented on in a CNN report in April 2009, suggested that the more often "Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists", this applied mostly to evangelical protestants. Doesn't that seem wrong to you, the sentiment, not the religious affiliation? Far too often I find that those who claim to be good Christians forget Matthew 7:1-5:

1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."

Patriarchal institutions

Penn and Teller recently focussed on the Catholic Church as part of their Bullshit series. Regardless of what religious affiliation you are, especially if you are Catholic, I suggest you watch this and look at the problems therein. If you aren't Catholic, and are Christian I suggest you watch this and see if any of it applies to your church/faith.

Many Christian denominations and many world religious are incredibly patriarchal and often abuse their power over women. Most religions are undemocratic and those who are governed get no say in how their faith is run, and instead are expected to follow the leader/s. Many religions abuse their power over their flocks.

The Catholic Church in Brazil, in March 2009, excommunicated a 9 year old's mother, and the doctors and nurses that performed the necessary abortion of the twins she was carrying, after she was raped by her father... for performing that abortion, regardless of the fact that the doctors advised that as she was so young, she would not survive the pregnancy. The 9 year old girl was judged too young to be excommunicated and the father was not excommunicated for his abuse of his daughter... but abortion is a grave sin and the result is immediate excommunication. This was widely condemned by Brazilian Catholics, the Brazilian Government and many liberals in the rest of the world. Story here.

This story is evidence of not only a massive abuse of power over who can and cannot be members of a certain club, but a massive failure to understand the impact of abuse on individuals, the fact that the world is not black and white (instead MANY shades of grey) and that abusing a child is a far graver sin than aborting two foetuses that would have died with the 9 year old if she had been forced to carry them to term (lets not talk about the bad genetics of incest either). This is a failure to understand that women should be in charge of what happens to their bodies and that to threaten anyone with excommunication if they decide, for whatever reason, that they need an abortion is wrong, especially (as in the case of the Catholic Church) when that organisation is run by a bunch of men who allegedly have never had sex.

The bible

I haven't got a lot to say on the topic of the bible. I know that biblical scholarship suggests that the Old Testament was re-written several times by the Jews as it was relevant to them in their struggle for survival - see Spong's book: The Sins of Scripture for more information.

You do have to admit though, to take the bible literally, for everything, would be a huge task. One guy tried it, and worked really hard. I don't know if I would bother to do such a thing, especially as to live like that involves more effort than I think anyone should put into being faithful.

The bible is full of horrible, horrible things, conducted a survey on the bad bits of the bible recently that was reported in The Times Online. Lovely versus such as those ordering genocide (1 Samuel 15:3), suggesting that women are beneath men (1 Timothy 2:12) and that rape of your female concubine is ok (Judges 14:20-25). The bible is not a "good" book. The bible is a book of interesting historical stories of a group of ancient people who had to fight to stay alive and retain their identity and of an inspirational man who was misquoted (or written about only by men and their point of view) and another man who was deeply troubled and wrote conflicting letters to different Christian groups around the known world.

Ok, rant over for now. I'm sure I'll think of other things I should write, but since I've been meaning to write this post for 6 months now, its time it was published and my links folder emptied for the next big project.

All comments and thoughts welcomed.