How tin gods (and a tin goddess) operate 1

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Craig Butt, ‘Female surgeons feel obliged to give sexual favours, report finds’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 10.09.15

Bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment are rife in the surgical profession, a damning report has found.

Half the surgeons and trainees who responded said they had been victimised.

Six months after senior surgeon Gabrielle McMullin said junior women doctors should “comply with requests” for sex to protect their medical careers, an independent survey of more than 3500 surgeons commissioned by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons has revealed a “toxic culture” in surgery departments across Australia.

Although about three out of five registered trainees surveyed said they’d been bullied, making complaints was widely believed to be “career suicide”.

Sexism was entrenched and endemic and sexual harassment pervasive, with women reporting they felt powerless to protest.

Women reported much higher rates of victimisation than men. One in three of the 560 women surveyed reported they’d been sexually harassed.

Sexual propositions and innuendo were the most common forms of sexual harassment.Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 1.52.40 pm

Women trainees and junior surgeons reported feeling obliged to give their supervisors sexual favours to keep their jobs. One woman reported that she had to “provide sexual favours in [her supervisor’s] consulting rooms in return for tutorship”.

Several women told the inquiry they felt “vulnerable and powerless when propositioned by senior male surgeons,” the report said.

“There are stories of acceptance at the time, as a ‘necessary evil’ with subsequent feelings of regret and shame. The impact of the sexual harassment was varied, ranging from annoyance at having to deal with it to utter despair and feelings of worthlessness.”

This follows reports from more than a dozen female doctors who contacted Fairfax Media in March to back Dr McMullin’s assertion that sexual harassment was widespread.

Dr McMullin has said that the career of Melbourne neurosurgeon Caroline Tan had been ruined by a sexual harassment case she won against a fellow neurosurgeon in 2008, and that “realistically” she would have been better off giving the man “a blow job”.

The report found a culture of fear and reprisal, with known bullies in senior positions seen as untouchable and too valuable for hospitals to discipline.

“This appears to be the single biggest issue fostering continuing poor behaviour by perpetrators, as so few people are prepared to challenge the status quo,” the report states.

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Several women reported active hostility to plans to start a family.

“I was told I would only be considered for a job if I had my tubes tied,” one reported. Others said they were made to work 30-hour shifts while heavily pregnant, or told to “pay back” their maternity leave by “doing all the on-call roster”.

Surgical departments were described as “boy’s clubs” with “institutional sexism on every level”.

Senior surgeons and supervisors regularly expressed doubts that women should be surgeons, and should instead “fetch the groceries”.

The college’s president David Watters said the results were “shocking” and apologised to all those who had been bullied.

“I am sorry too many of us have been silent bystanders,” Professor Watters said. “This silence has been part of the problem. We have failed to push back against the behaviour of those responsible and we should have done more to support those who had been affected.”

Like the police force and the army, the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons had to face up to the problem now that an independent inquiry had unearthed the true extent of the bullying and harassment, said the advisory group’s chairman Rob Knowles.

Stamping out bullying and harassment required the cooperation of the hospitals, said Mr Knowles. He flagged that the worst offenders could be removed from senior positions in surgical departments if conditions did not improve.

The draft report recommends cultural change and leadership among surgeons, better approaches to educating trainees, and better management of complaints about bullying.

The college is seeking feedback before the final report is handed down, and will produce an action plan to tackle bullying by the end of November.


The motley play of the world and its dialectical relativity

Cairns Birdwing butterfly

Cairns Birdwing butterfly

‘In this motley play of the world, if we may so call the sum of existents, there is nowhere a firm footing to be found: everything bears an aspect of relativity, conditioned by and conditioning something else.’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Logic, Trans., William Wallace, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1975, 180



Do you want to understand the world? Then consider this

NGC 4676: When Mice Collide

NGC 4676: When Mice Collide

‘…the tremendous power of the negative…’

G.W.F.Hegel, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, trans., A.V.Miller, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1977, 19

Events recorded by the ALICE experiment from the first lead ion collisions, at a centre-of-mass energy of 2.76 TeV per nucleon pair 03.03.14

Events recorded by the ALICE experiment from the first lead ion collisions, at a centre-of-mass energy of 2.76 TeV per nucleon pair 03.03.14

LL Orionis: When Cosmic Winds Collide

LL Orionis: When Cosmic Winds Collide


Images: top/middle/bottom

A video for non-linguistic thought


Aussies – proud to be servile

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Would the media hype and Aussies’ newly expanded interest in sport happen if Jarryd Hayne had earned a place in a Chinese basketball team? A Russian football team?…

When Aussies aren’t searching for their self-esteem and meaning in volunteering for their master’s wars, they’re finding them in celebrating their football.

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Images: top/bottom

Whites rule. Got it?

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Ruby Hamad, ‘White nostalgia: when “timeless” fantasies turn out to be incredibly racist’ The Sydney Morning Herald, 07.09.15

Two years ago, a lengthy Financial Times essay predicted that the discovery of some disturbing colonial-era photographs would signal the imminent end of “colonial nostalgia.”

Unearthed in what was once the Dutch East Indies and is now Indonesia, they included many “timeless” images associated with the bygone days of empire; young girls in flowing white dresses, men riding elephants, women tending out-of-place flower gardens.

But alongside these representations of “lost white paradise,” were gruesome pictures of colonialism’s less pleasant side. In one, Dutch soldiers smile for the camera shortly after gunning down an entire village. Dead bodies are clearly visible in the frame.

Europeans (and Australians) have long regarded colonialism with romanticism. But images such as these meant the “western emotional memory of colonialism is [finally] changing”, wrote Simon Kuper in the Financial Times essay.

As it turns out, Kuper’s optimism was premature. Colonial nostalgia is back and Taylor Swift is the latest artist to immortalise it in her new video ‘Wildest Dreams’, where she plays a glamorous Old Hollywood movie star falling for her (married) leading man on location in Africa.

‘Wildest Dreams’ is a homage to old films like ‘African Queen’, which were themselves a love letter to colonialism. As such, while there are lions and giraffes aplenty, there is little room for black people. Unsurprisingly, many Africans are unimpressed. Writing for NPR, James Kassaga Arinaitwe and Viviane Rutabingwa explain why:

“(Swift) should absolutely be able to use any location as a backdrop. But she packages our continent as the backdrop for her romantic songs devoid of any African person or storyline, and she sets the video in a time when the people depicted by Swift and her co-stars killed, dehumanised and traumatised millions of Africans.”

The video’s director, Joseph Kahn, who pointed out the multi-racial makeup of the video’s crew, said he limited the number of black extras for purposes of historical accuracy. “This is not a video about colonialism,” he protested.

Translation: this is not a video intentionally about colonialism. Nonetheless, Kahn has “accidentally” perpetuated the colonial interpretation of Africa as nothing more than a dry landscape of magnificent animals and dramatic sunsets. It’s not so much that there aren’t enough black people in it, it’s that they’re regarded as utterly inconsequential.

Local populations don’t have to be omitted entirely for colonial nostalgia to be in effect. The 2013 Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition, consisting of mostly white models in exotic locales, did include people of colour but they were used interchangeably with animals and landscapes. One model poses with a spear-wielding African man, another reclines on a raft while being chauffeured by a Chinese peasant.

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It’s as if people of colour serve no role other than to highlight the individuality of westerners. Whiteness is centralised and the colonial myth lives on: that colonialism was really not so bad after all, and that it had the blessings of locals who did little more than stand around in colourful costumes smiling beatifically.

This is the power of colonial nostalgia – it has allowed the west to completely reimagine its own history. When the truth is too inconvenient, it is simply ignored.

‘Banished’, a BBC mini-series about the First Fleet that screened earlier this year famously included not a single Aboriginal person. Producer Jimmy McGovern claimed it would have been too difficult to get the portrayal of Aboriginal people right given the two-week timeframe of the series.

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Translation: Aboriginal people had to be left out because including them would mean telling a completely different story – not one of unlucky convicts and plucky explorers braving the treacherous ocean to find “nothing but bush” on the other end, but one of Aboriginal resistance and the beginnings of genocide.

Of course, it’s not surprising that artists neglect to portray the full truth of colonialism. They take their cues from a society that has, in general, proven to be nothing if not adept at absolving itself of any need for truthful recollection of its own brutal history.

Winston Churchill, who once said that Arabs have no more claim to land in Palestine than dogs, and who presided over some shocking atrocities in the colonies, has somehow been recast as a loveable old bear who went to war “for the arts.” Lachlan Macquarie, NSW’s fifth governor who has a city street named after him, is remembered as a great “colony builder.” He was reasonably nice to Aboriginal people – as long as they didn’t show any inclination to independence. This is what happened when they did:

“In 1816 Macquarie’s paternalism was tested when hostile Aboriginal people attacked settlers along the Hawkesbury–Nepean River. His reluctant response was to send a punitive military expedition with orders to take as many prisoners as possible, shoot any who resisted or attempted to flee and hang their bodies in the trees as a warning to survivors.”

Hostile Aboriginals. Attacked. Reluctant. Exactly whose land was being invaded here?

This is the reality that white colonial nostalgia obscures. Whether or not Swift, or Sports Illustrated, or the BBC intended to glorify colonialism, that’s exactly what they’ve done. Massacres, exploitation, and enslavement were not unfortunate by-products of colonialism – they were its modus operandi and what made the western world as we know it possible.

This uncomfortable truth must be reckoned with if we are to have any hope of putting the past behind us. You cannot isolate the “good parts” of colonialism from the brutality, and then expect people of colour to accept this romanticisation of a period in history whose impacts we are still reeling from. Not in your wildest dreams.