Monthly Archives: March 2013

Hypatia: mathematician, astronomer and philosopher


How many female scientists do you know of beyond Marie Curie, Jane Goodall and Rosalind Franklin?

Hypatia of Alexandra (approx. 370 – 415 A.D.) has been a favourite of mine since I was a girl. And it seems fitting given the time of the year and circumstances of her death that I mention her.

Hypatia is most certainly a strumpet of the highest order: she was a pagan, unmarried, taught at the Neoplatonist school of philosophy, dressed in the clothing of a teacher or scholar instead of women’s clothing and moved around freely in her own chariot. She also had significant political influence on Orestes, the Prefect of Alexandria. She wrote many books on mathematics and astronomy; about the motion of the planets, number theory, and designed astronomical equipment such as the astrolabe and the hydroscope. It is not surprising that these awesome attributes lead to her horrific demise.

The Patriarch Cyril, the Bishop of St. Mark and future saint, was determined to bring Christianity to Alexandria and rid the city of Jews and pagans. In March of 415, following fighting between the Jews and Christians which led to disagreement between Orestes and Cyril, Cyril incited a mob of Christian monks who dragged Hypatia from her chariot. She was stripped naked, beaten with broken pottery and the flesh stripped from her bones. She was then torn limb from limb and her remains burnt, some say, at the library in The Caesareum temple. Her students fled to Athens where the study of mathematics prospered. The school continued in Alexandria until the Arabs invaded in 642. Tragically the library of Alexandria was burned by the Arab conquerors and Hypatia’s works were destroyed.

Hypatia is often regarded as the defender of science and inquiry and free thought against the onslaught of religious dogmatism. We can argue over the historical details, but it makes for a bloody great story that given the current climate is relevant today.


Now is the Winterson of our discontent….

Bicycles: Making good women go bad since the 1800s

two wheeler strumpets!!!!

via Bicycles: Making good women go bad since the 1800s.

Musings of a science lover

Over the past week or so, two texts in particular have pissed me off no end….
The first was a video produced back in 2012 by the European Commission for their website ‘Science: It’s a girl thing’ ( aimed at attracting girls to science in the EU. Apparently the best way to get girls interested in science as a career is to ‘speak their language’ which seems to be all about fashion and being attractive to men. See the ‘enlightened and inclusive’ images of sexy girl-scientists strutting their stuff in stilettos admired by a gormless male scientist.…and hey girls, we know you love makeup: you could invent a fantastic lipstick or blush!!! (Is that what they really think girls are all about? And more worrying, are girls starting to think that about themselves?). I’m sure it comes as no surprise the video was removed after howls of protest. It would be amusing if it wasn’t so disturbing. Judge the video for yourself:

The second was an article by science alert (see link below) concerning the discourse around the ‘revelation’ that the author of the popular facebook page ‘I fucking love science’ was actually a woman! Well, firstly that information was available if one cared to click on the ‘About’ link on the page (however, the practice of some women hiding their gender to be taken seriously continues) and secondly why the fuck couldn’t she be a woman (to use the current vernacular)? Again we have this assumption that a commentator on science and in particular the style used by this page which is funny, clever and sometimes irreverent, could only be a man. Tragically, this type of assumption is not the exclusive domain of men; plenty of women are happily buying into sexism and thereby reinforcing the gender barriers and obstacles for women in science.

The Guardian tried to help with suggestions of how to turn girls on to science and failed abysmally! They came up with some top shelf advice for parents: such as how to encourage maths skills: “make your domestic scenario more mathematic[al] and scientific. Shopping is filled with math problems, particularly if your daughter wants something that is too expensive”; and how to encourage collaborative skills: “Encourage… collaboration in your sleepovers or birthday parties. Have the girls cook dinner, or bake cookies or tie dye t-shirts together”. Absolute gems.

Maia Szalavitz (2013) says the reasons why women are underrepresented in sciences in countries where women are treated more equally is not about women’s aptitude (of course!) but whether the field is welcoming and inclusive and accessible.

Retention is a major problem. This is partly due to reduced career advancement opportunities due to the ole boy’s club mentality or women are overlooked as they have less full-time years and hence less benchmark achievements (e.g. papers published/PhD students), and they may end up leaving altogether due to competing carer demands. While the numbers of students entering university to study the sciences are similar for young men (45%) and women (55%), beyond a doctorate, numbers show an increasing difference as you move through the levels of senior positions (above senior lecturer, female representation falls to 10% or less depending on the type of science)(Bell, 2009).

So, science itself needs to work on its PR and girls need to be exposed to science in a meaningful, inclusive way (The Guardian was sort of on the right track, I’ll give them that) with positive, VISIBLE female role models. Essentially, girls need to know that they too can be scientists and… SMART! There needs to be more flexible opportunities for those women in science so they can advance their careers, and governments can help by providing support via paid family leave and access to affordable day care. OK, these are the same old issues and conditions that feminists have been arguing for and have somewhat successfully gained for what seems like forever now. But there is a new factor that has raised the stakes: the silencing of reasonable discourse due to constant bombardment of messages of consumerism, individualism and sexism via social and mainstream media. And sexism is at the root of the disengagement of women from science.

Considering sexism (leave the others for later), the current stereotypes in the media of girls and women are appalling. Go for a wander online if you dare. It seems girls and women are all about their appearance, their attractiveness to males (sexy over smart always!??), they love spending money, love gossiping, are fragile and need to be protected (but are also there to be used).……and more. The messages are so damaging to their sense of self and wellbeing. But it doesn’t end there as the attitudes of boys and men and their subsequent behaviour towards girls and women are also being influenced. We desperately need to hear the voices of intelligent, sensible, articulate women and men.

The corporate psychopath: a monster of our making?

Image from

As I glanced at the TV News last night I saw the stock market indices such as the Dow Jones, Nikkei, Hang Seng, Nasdaq etc. and pondered why on earth global stock markets have become a fundamental part of our news programs on TV . Why do news producers insist stock markets are so important to the average TV news viewer? It’s up there with the weather as essential information. Why such an emphasis on the immediacy of the markets? Well, it seems the dominant view is that the stock market is all important because if the stock market is healthy then our economy is healthy.

Alongside this primacy of the market, we are being fed a narrative that “growth is good” and that our economy is in pretty good shape considering the aftermath of the GFC. Wayne Swan, the Federal Treasurer, stated in early March 2013: “Australia has managed to achieve solid growth in the December quarter at a time when around half of all advanced economies contracted, including five major advanced economies.” So growth is good according to Euromoney Magazine’s 2011 Treasurer of the Year. Growth is good, so the wisdom goes, because it solves unemployment, thus widening the tax base to meet government expenditure and the redistribution of wealth. A strumpet might argue that this is arse-about; that surely employment is the key to growth, but I digress.

The “Growth is good” mantra along with the relentless focus on financial markets may be something we should be concerned about if we are not corporate psychopaths or their acolytes. Let’s consider what has been occurring in an era of “unprecedented growth” where corporate psychopaths have thrived in environments of rapid change, high turnover of key staff, and, where “growth” is the KPI for success, so that a “whatever it takes” mentality is venerated and rewarded. Before and after the 2007 GFC, government (i.e. taxpayer) bailouts of frankly, criminal banks such as Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, London Scottish Bank, IndyMac Bank etc. were the reward for a whole population of corporate psychopaths in the financial sectors. The pursuit of growth appears to give the psychopath a mantle of protection. Why weren’t these criminals held to account? Well this is what US Attorney General Eric Holder had to say about banksters in the USA during the GFC:

“I am concerned that the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them when we are hit with indications that if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy,” he said. “And I think that is a function of the fact that some of these institutions have become too large.”

Our Stock Exchanges and Banks are loaded with corporate psychopaths, whose rather unwholesome qualities mean they do very well in their employer’s psychometric testing. Qualities such as empathy, people management skills, esprit des corps and emotional intelligence are definitely not sought as positive attributes for key personnel in the financial industries. Evidence suggests that corporate psychopaths are concentrated in these sectors because they are attracted to competitive environments that offer power, prestige and money to the right takers.

In ‘The Psychopath Test’, Professor Robert Hare told the author Jon Ronson: “I should have spent some time inside the Stock Exchange as well. Serial killer psychopaths ruin families. Corporate and political and religious psychopaths ruin economies. They ruin societies.” Hare’s view is reinforced by Clive Boddy’s (2011) peer-reviewed paper “The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis” which outlines how highly-placed psychopaths in the banking sector nearly brought down the world economy.
Boddy states:
“If the Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis is correct then we are now far from the end of the crisis. Indeed, it is only the end of the beginning”.

Corporate Psychopathology Exhibit A is Dick Fuld, former head psychopath honcho of Lehman Brothers with a penchant for “ripping out hearts”. Have a look at this couple of seconds of footage:

NY Mayor Bloomberg had this to say about Dick at a news conference: “There’s Lehman Brothers, who I feel very sorry for, Dick Fuld, I’ve known for 40 years, who’s a competent guy, and people are criticizing him. They didn’t criticize him when things were going well for an awful lot of years.” No. They didn’t. In fact he was feted for his success.

Brave and brilliant US Senator and strumpet, Elizabeth Warren asks: “What does it take, how many billions of dollars do you launder from drug lords and how many economic sanctions do you violate before someone will consider shutting down a financial institution?” Senator Elizabeth Warren has been attacked for her standpoint, probably because it’s just not nice to criticize “competent guys” in the financial sector who walk away from the smoking debris of their collapsed corporations with millions of dollars and apparently clean consciences…Only to rise again as consultants and advisors to government and other corporations to tell them how to avoid disasters such as the ones they have previously overseen. Oh the irony.

Here in Australia, The High Court ruled that several directors of the former asbestos manufacturer James Hardie Industries PLC breached their duties by approving a misleading statement about a fund for asbestos victims. One of these former Directors, Meredith Hellicar, now advises up and coming directors on corporate governance. So it seems cheating, lying, causing harm to others and stealing is a necessary means to the ends, and this “whatever it takes” mentality gives corporate psychopaths a righteous sense of impunity even when they are hauled before the courts. And then we have elite sport so favoured by governments and corporations where huge injections (no pun intended) of public and corporate funding and sponsorship deals have enabled creatures like Cyclopath Lance Armstrong to be seen as heroes.

Corporate psychopathology has tentacles that stretch and clasp all areas of society. Whether we are talking about politics, business or consumers, each and every one of us is culpable to some degree, because it is the mind-set and values of immediate gratification and deferred accountability (in the guise of “growth”) that have enabled corporate psychopaths to flourish. We are living in a culture where the corporate psychopath is the piper we pay, but s/he calls the tune and it’s the same one over and over, ‘Whatever it takes’…and we are all singing along with them. The corporate psychopath is the dark side of the choices we make as consumers and as citizens.

Sex, Art and the Inner World by Ruth Skilbeck

Cracking article by Ruth Skilbeck about women and art, both as artists and as objects..”So we see an endless procession of images that are disconnected to an inner truth of our humanity that our sexuality puts us in touch with through our bodies and minds. By this I mean there is an endless procession of images that are dissociated from the person who is represented, and the person who is doing the representing. This is the definition of porn.”

Aspiring to Acquiesce or: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Boobs”

Excellent piece by Clem Bastow on why the new trend of “aspirational toplessness” in fashion mags is just a new spin on the old rubbish.

“Media ideals tell us that her body is not “acceptable”, thus the baring of it is considered brave.” …Clever trick indeed, you crafty bastards!