2018: A Year Of Ups And Downs

2018 began, as years often do, with a party. A great party. So many of my good friends were there and, for some reason, I was wearing a glow-stick tiara. At midnight, a bunch of us wandered out onto the street where we could see some of the fireworks and I remember a brief, ponderous moment when I wondered: What will the new year bring?

Well, turns out it brought a shitload of ups and downs.

The first big thing happened on January 10, when I was diagnosed as a Type 2 diabetic. One of the really diabetic diabetics. And while at first that was a down – an embuggerance – it very quickly got turned into an up. It was an opportunity to lose weight, get fit, and spend more time with friends. And this year I’ve gone swimming on a near twice-weekly basis with Raya and with Jo, done lots of walks up the 1,000 Steps and with heaps of friends, and gone on a few long walks with Lucas and Lu-Ann. I even did a 5km Fun Run in October which certainly wasn’t fun and was barely any run.
Ups: health improvements, many delightful social experiences. Downs: health concerns, extensive exercise.

Photo credit: Me, with help from Andy Casely

Also in January Hamish and I camped out in an empty carpark and watched the super blood moon. A cosmic alignment of Sun, Earth and Moon while the moon was close to Earth made for an impressive display as we watched it slowly turn orange-red. A fun night and a chance to get a little astrophotography going. I’m very happy with my photos!
Ups: good companionship, photography and a beautiful celestial performance. Downs: Nil.

Lucas and I helped Steve build a Lego scale model of the Saturn V rocket. It was huge, and a heap of fun to build!
Ups: Rocket, good times with a mate. Downs: Nil.

saturn 5 lego
We built a small model of the Up Goer 5

The Australian Skeptics National Convention in Sydney was a fabulous weekend, for a bunch of reasons. I saw some great talks, made new friends and caught up with great people I don’t see often enough. There were also a number of catch-ups and parties throughout the year which made me aware of how lucky I up to have some great friends.
Ups: Friends! Downs: Nil.

So far everything was looking quite rosy, on a personal level. But there was a darkness in the background. A lurking inevitability that finally came to a head in November, when Penelope died. It hit me hard – and I don’t quite know why. It shouldn’t have. It wasn’t a surprise, she has announced in September that that she had withdrawn from chemo treatments. We’d known the day was coming, but it still struck me as sudden, abrupt and above all so unfair. It’s not like we we close, either. We had drifted apart a fair bit in the last 6 or so years. Maybe it affected me more than I was expecting because she was of a similar age, when my previous experiences with grief had been for elderly grandparents or the parents of friends. Maybe it was the sudden realisation that I wouldn’t see her ever again, that the end I’d ignored because it was always a long way away had finally come. Maybe it was just the unfairness of it all, that someone with such strength and intellect and courage could be so cruelly taken when so young. Maybe – and I think this is probably the strongest reason of all – maybe it was because she was so dearly loved by so many of my friends that to see their hurt, and their suffering, compounded everything. And I felt guilty for feeling so awful, when some of my closest friends were feeling unimaginably worse.
It really fucking sucked.
Ups: Nil. Downs: Everything.

penelope funeral card
A touching card handed out at Penelope’s funeral. I love that photo of her.

Globally, the planet burned, literally and figuratively: it was the fourth hottest year on record. Bigots rallied against, shot, ran over and bombed innocent civilians. The Far Right grew in popularity (and populism) around the world. Trump did Trump things, but at least the blue wave actually happened and the Democrats gained the most seats in the US House of Representatives since 1974.
And for the first time ever, less than half the world’s population is considered poor or at risk of sliding into poverty. Global suicide rates have plummeted. Progressive activists, especially youngsters, took to the streets multiple times to protest gun violence, violence against women, climate change inaction and Brexit. The Liberal Party began repeatedly slamming its hand down on the Self Destruct Button.

But for me, on balance, 2018 was a good year. Not a great year, not by a long shot, but a good one. Now 2019 brings its own set of challenges and opportunities. I’m hoping to continue the fitness improvements, and wanting to focus a bit more on getting my finances under control. But I look towards 2019 with determination, trepidation, and hope.

New Year’s Eve at Peter’s Tiki Party. A great time, and an incredible Tiki God!

Happy New Year, dear reader, from Peter’s Angry Tiki God and me.

Penelope Green, 1979-2018.

Penelope wasn’t religious. I think it’s quite safe to say she was quite strongly opposed to religion. And what better proof that God doesn’t exist than the tragically early end to her life? What better argument against a benevolent omnipotent force than her pain, sickness, trauma and excruciating wait to die?

So she probably didn’t believe in any sort of afterlife. But if there is, if there’s a heaven of some sort; I hope she’s there and I hope there’s a really fucking long To Read shelf and she gets to read every damn book on it. And every time she reads one she gets to buy another three to replace it.

Because she loved books and she was so well read. She was so knowledgeable. She thought about the world so much and could turn any conversation into an erudite discussion. From the serious and important to the banal or absurd. Politics, feminism, sport, beer or Buffy. But you know what sucked? Do you know what the most annoying thing about her was? She was so often right. Which meant I was wrong and had to eat humble pie. Happened considerably more often than I care to admit. That’s not to say she was haughty or conceited – quite the opposite. She was just, right. And she was prepared to explain why I wrong. Very patiently. And often more than once.

We were never quite clear on where we first met. We definitely became aware of each other at various skeptic and atheist events, but it was such a bizarre coincidence that we had so many friends in common. We very likely had seen each other at weddings or social gatherings before, though. Penelope – never Penny, that was Not Her Name – was cute, and funny, and smart but at first she struck me as a bit… contradictory. I mean she seemed to really dig beer a lot, but she had this rule about never more than four drinks. She was a passionate thinker, who came across as a very academic person, yet she was also a crazy sports fanatic. And she loved Josh Lyman even though clearly Sam was the best I mean everyone loves Sam, right?

But we bonded over skepticism, we liked each other’s company and shared many views. Soon we’d be watching Game of Thrones together on Friday nights, complaining about chefs that put olives in everything, and arguing whether Summer was better than Winter1.

But there weren’t enough shared views and similar interests, and we drifted apart. We’d remain good friends but really would only see each other in group social events or Skeptic functions. I fondly remember last year’s New Year’s Eve party at Shayne and Eva’s – standing out on the road, watching the fireworks. No doubt she watched with a small degree of anxiety and trepidation about the year ahead, but of course she didn’t show it. Strong, stoic, brave.

That’s the sort of person she was. Penelope took life in her stride. Even when the cancer was ravaging her body, a week after bad blood test results in March this year, she did the 106km Great Ocean Road hike. Because she could. Because there was also, let’s be honest, a tiny bit of stubbornness about her.

But stubbornness and willpower can only do so much. And now she’s gone. Taken away from us shortly after her 39th birthday.

And it’s not. Fucking. Fair.

All she wanted to do was live and travel and see castles and do tapestry and read books and write the Next Great Australian Novel. And see Essendon win some more Grand Finals.

Yes, ok, she also wanted to rule the world and she had extensive plans for that. But even that wasn’t a selfish thing. Well not primarily a selfish thing – it was mainly about sorting things out. Getting rid of cruelty, unkindness and, well, stupidity. And intolerance – she hated bigotry in all its forms. She marched in protests, she went to meetings, she even got into politics and was an active member of the Secular Party of Australia. I have so much respect for people who get out there and DO good things.

But she can’t travel anymore. She won’t see any more castles, read or write any more books, and Ben (formerly known as the Giant Tapestry of Doom) will remain unfinished. Just as her rich, full life was unfinished.

Some castles remain strong for hundreds of years after the threat of war is gone. Some classic novels continue to bring joy long after their writers have passed. And Penelope will remain an inspiration to me, and to the many people who knew and loved her, for the rest of our lives.

Goodbye, Penelope. We drifted apart but I’m so glad I knew you, and I miss you terribly.

1 One of very few cases where Penelope was clearly wrong. Hot weather is glorious. Winter is the worst, although I will concede that she looked damn good in that red coat. She had style.

Four bricks.

Four bricks.

Four typical, standard sized bricks.

That’s how much more weight I was carrying around with me at the start of the year. I weighed 113kg. This morning, I clocked in at 99.8kg. A loss of 13kg, or about the weight of four bricks.

weight 99kg crop

I’ve been lugging around four bricks that I didn’t need to lug around. Because I was fat. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m still fat. I still have a belly that makes Buddha look trim. I still send sales assistants hiding under tables when I go clothes shopping. I still make beeping noises if I walk backwards.

I’m still fat.

I’m just less fat.

My goal, when I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes was to get under 100kg by June. That seemed reasonable – a bit under a kilogram each week. So, yeah… goal achieved! I’ll have a celebratory ice-cream tonight, and then I’ll start working towards my next goal: 95kg by September. That should be doable, right?

This isn’t a brag post. Well ok it is a brag post, but it’s also a thank you post. Because this wasn’t a solo effort. I wouldn’t have lost those four bricks if it hadn’t been for the incredible support network that have helped along the way. I couldn’t have done it without my parents and family, and their continued encouragement. I couldn’t have done it without the excellent medical professionals who have been keeping an eye on me: my GP, my endocrinologist, my dietitian, my diabetes educator and now my exercise physiologists as well. And I definitely, absolutely could not have done it without the amazing friends who have travelled part of the journey with me. Thank you Nancy, Jo, Raya, Marcos, Peter, Kate, Penelope, Lucas, Dave, Hamish, and anybody else who I’ve somehow forgotten. Thank you all – and even if you haven’t joined me on a walk or a swim thank you still for your support and encouragement!

I hope y’all will join me for the shedding of many more bricks!

I’m Too Damn Sweet

When talking about everyday words that, given context, can also be rude, George Carlin once observed: “You can prick your finger, but don’t finger your prick!” This is a story of how pricking my finger could potentially have saved my life.

And has also become a colossal annoyance.

It begins about a week and a half ago. And somehow I got a small cut on my little finger. A tiny prick, if you will. I don’t know how, I didn’t even notice it when it happened. But over the weekend, I saw that it had become infected. Annoyed, I booked an appointment with my GP and took time off work to see her and get some antibiotics.

So far, so good.

While I’m there, my GP says “Hmm, it’s been a while since you last had some blood tests. And it’s a bit unusual for someone so young to be getting bacterial infections.” Someone so young! Lady, I thought, 36 is NOT young! “I want you to go and get these blood tests tomorrow,” she says. So I take some time off work the next day, and give two beautiful vials of my cherry-red life juice to the pathology nurse.

Later that day, my GP rang and told me to come see her as soon as possible. My blood glucose levels were at 16.6 mmol/L – a healthy person’s should be roughly between 4 and 5.5 mmol/L.

So yes, dear reader, I’m a Type 2 Diabetic.

Many people, upon hearing such news, would be distraught. They might be overcome with emotions – anger, fear, sorrow. But not me. To me, this is all just one giant annoyance. An inconvenience. Terry Pratchett used to describe his Alzheimer’s as an “embuggerance”, and that’s exactly what this diagnosis is for me.

And I can afford to be annoyed by this – I’m fairly lucky (if luck can have anything to do with it). I’m not showing any real symptoms (My GP’s exact words: “How you’re not feeling absolutely awful is beyond me!”). And of course, there are far worse illnesses to have than diabetes. With significant changes to diet and lifestyle, and some medication, I can beat this. I went on a health kick several years ago and dropped nearly 10kg. I’ve seen various specialists already, with appointments to see more in the near future including a diabetes educator and a dietitian. But I also have two key weapons in my arsenal: the ability to turn on the willpower and determination when I set my mind to something, and a freaking amazing support network of friends and family who can encourage and assist me. And a surprising number of them have kicked sugar in the balls. So, keto or near-keto friends, I may be asking for low-GI suggestions in the future!

Like I said, I’m seeing various experts, learning things and making plans on an ongoing basis. But for now I’m taking Metformin (the standard first-line diabetes drug that lowers blood sugar and increases sensitivity to insulin), monitoring my blood glucose levels with a wicked cool little gadget, and significantly reducing my portion sizes while increasing my amount of exercise. See! an embuggerance.

So, I guess the moral of this story is don’t get fat, be active, watch the sugar intake, and have regular checkups with your GP – even if you feel fine. And remember: you can finger your prick, but you should also prick your finger!

That Puppy Episode

Twenty years ago a young comedian made an announcement on her slumping TV show. She received death threats, lost her job and fell into depression. For three years she couldn’t get any work. She revealed something of herself that nobody at the time would dare make public and it killer her career, her health and her wellbeing.

But while that announcement initially cost her personally, it saved the lives of thousands of people. Because of her, thousands of people found the courage to reveal who they were to the world. The strength to be themselves. The will to keep on living.

Thank you, Ellen. You deserve all the toaster ovens you could ever need.*

Ellen Degeneres quote

* And your career picked up enough that you can now afford them, so yay you!

The US Government poses the greatest threat to US trade, all for the illusion of increased security

Lucas nails it on the head. This is why the US – a fantastic, wonderful country – is now on my No Go list for at least four more years.

codenix | blog

The United States Government has thrown a cat amongst the pigeons with its ramped up forced data exposure policies affecting travellers to their country.There are reportsthat increasing numbers of travellers are being forced to unlock and hand over their electronic devices to Border Control agents, who may then download an unencrypted clone of your device’s stored data to store and interrogate at will, potentially forever.

This practice is akin to forcing you to hand over all your email history, all your passwords to your cloud storage and social media accounts, all your phone’s stored location tracking data and call history, all your photos, your complete contact list (which can be used to build a profile of all your associations), and of course access to your finances if you have banking apps installed.

Now many of these things are available ​to law enforcement in the US anyway, but in…

View original post 708 more words

So, It’s Trump.

There’s no way to sugar-coat this.
Ignorance, fear, racism and misinformation have put a tiny-fingered, misogynist, bigoted, fact-fearing child in the White House. And next to him an evil, homophobic, evangelical climate-change denier as his Vice President. In the prophetic words of River Tam, things are going to get much, much worse.


I was going to write about how this happened. I was going to look at who’s to blame – was it the media? Was it the DNC or even Hillary herself? Was it all FBI Director James Comey’s fault?
But that’s not my place yet. More knowledgeable and experienced people will be writing about that. There will be weeks and weeks of analysis. There will be op-eds and infographics and charts and finger-pointing.
But what we need right now, I think, is some perspective.
Before we had Obama, we had Dubya. Before we had Justin Trudeau, we had Stephen Harper. Before we had the most productive Australian Prime Minister, we had eleven years of John Howard. Sometimes to take two steps forward you have to take a step back.
Social change is slow. If you try and rush it you get push back, because it’s largely generational. For hundreds of years, each generation has been more progressive than the one before it. 150 years ago, women couldn’t vote. 60 years ago, American schools were segregated. 20 years ago, same-sex couples couldn’t get married.
Older white people voted for Trump. Older white people voted for Brexit.
Two weeks before the election, SurveyMonkey published this map of the electoral college if only millennials voted:

Source: SurveyMonkey

So the upcoming generation has progressive ideals. Unfortunately, fewer millennials voted this election. So maybe we need to reach out to the kids better. Maybe we need to inspire them more, like Obama did in 2008 and 2012. I don’t know.
But I do know that giving up won’t help. I do know that we can’t just accept the world the way it is. Women weren’t given the right to vote, people stood up and called for it. Desegregation didn’t just happen, civil rights campaigners stood up and demanded it. Marriage equality is happening around the world because people are fighting for it.
So we can’t just give up. We need to take action. We need to see Trump’s election as a wake-up call. A call to action.
So take action. Engage with people who think climate change is a hoax. Campaign to your elected officials for humane treatment of refugees. Speak up when you witness or experience sexism, racism, bigotry. And support the victims of sexism, racism and bigotry.

And above all, be the change you want to see in the world. Nate Silver on the FiveThirtyEight Election podcast talks about the ‘smugness’ shown by many of the commentariat – especially on the left and in parts of the media. That doesn’t help. Be better than that. If you can comport yourself with all the restraint, patience, dignity and wisdom that Barack and Michelle Obama have demonstrated – time and time again – you’ll be helping to make the world better.

There is hope. Change will happen. It won’t happen fast enough, and many people will be hurt in the process. But if we keep the pressure on, we will get there.

Fired up?

Ready to go?


Oh gods I found this funny.

I was watching The Daily Show with Jon Stewart this morning, which started off with a depressing look at Fox News’ vilification of poor people. Then, after the ad break, came this little gem about Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. In case you’re not aware, McConnell is the quintessential Old White Republican Arsehole. He’s repeatedly tried to get the Affordable Healthcare Act repealed, he’s opposed every gun control attempt, and described shutting down Guantanamo Bay as releasing ‘murderers’ into the US.
And he’s the 10th wealthiest senator, with a personal fortune of over US$9 million.

So making fun of him is extremely entertaining.

Here’s the clip from the Daily Show today. It’s brilliant. 😀

And possibly my favourite #McConnelling so far is this one:

The Future of Skepticism: More. Positive. Stuff.

Over the weekend I had the joy of attending the Australian Skeptics National Convention in Canberra. Let me just say this: it was FANTASTIC. Skeptic conventions, Skepticamps and other such events are always terrific fun to attend because it’s always great to be with friends and like-minded people. But when a convention is as well put together as this one was – around a common theme, with a diverse range of engaging speakers, in an environment of spirited collegiality – it really does motivate and inspire.

Dr. Paul Willis talking at the Australian Skeptics National Convention 2013.
Image: Ruth Ellison

The last speaker on the program was the inimitable Dr. Paul Willis. Former host of ABC’s splendid Catalyst program and now director at RIAus, Paul is a charming, genial man with a razer-sharp intellect and a love of puns. And his thoughts on where skepticism is going, which he shared in his talk, are spot on with what I’ve been thinking recently. He boiled it down to three key points:

  • More. We need to be doing more. There’s an entire internet out there waiting for us to get out there and fill it with good information. And if we don’t, the quacks and the woo-pedlars will.
  • Positive. We need to show that we’re not a bunch of nay-saying curmudgeons. Let’s give positive feedback to the people and organisations that are doing fantastic stuff. When Catalyst does a terrific show like the Chiropractic episode, we need to be congratulating them and thanking them. Get our voices heard and we’ll see more of the good stuff.
  • Stuff. We need to expand the range of what we do. If you don’t have a blog, start one. If you’re not on social media, get involved. If you don’t do a podcast, or a vodcast, why not think about it. Comment on blog posts. Comment on Old Media sites like newspapers and TV shows. Submit complaints to the TGA on dodgy websites. Join the Guerilla Skepticism team and write some Wikipedia articles. And take advantage of some of the tools being developed like rbutr, Web of Trust and Fishbarrel.

Have a listen to Paul’s talk here: