Adam's Brain Dump

StackOverflow bans "fluent bullshit" chatGPT answers

I’m slightly amused that the AI-driven chatGPT chat bot has been banned from being used to write StackOverflow answers.

For the uninitiated, StackOverflow is a web forum where programmer and programmer-adjacent nerds like me ask questions about how to do various technical tasks so we look like we’re extremely proficient in our jobs.

chatGPT responses are prohibited on the basis that it sometimes produces answers that are surface-level plausible but in fact wrong. The problem is that it would take a human with expertise to know that the answers are wrong. Or “fluent bullshit” to quote a Verge article.

Personally I’d observe that humans on the internet are extremely not immune from producing reams of fluent bullshit, so perhaps it’s just a bad habit it picked up from us.

Other than that, chatGPT is a pretty incredible seeming system at first glance. You can sign up to try it for free here at present, which is well worth doing if you have even a slight interest. As it happens it has actually given me some useful answers to technical questions, as well as a lot of facility for wasting time.

Listening to Dawn FM by The Weeknd ๐ŸŽถ.

The conceit here is that you’re listening to a radio station on the way to the afterlife, full of relatively upbeat (for him) electro-pop with radio jingle-esque narrations here and there by Jim Carrey no less.

The review consensus seems to be that Less Than Zero is the best track, but I also liked this disco-pop-house entry.

Listening to Mainstream Sellout by Machine Gun Kelly ๐ŸŽถ.

At some point in my youth it felt like there were a ton of pop-punkish songs about how much the performer concerned was in always-unrequited love with “emo girls”, how they take a ton of drugs, how generally alienated and nihilistic they’re feeling, all that kind of stuff. The latest Machine Gun Kelly brings back those vibes big time.

Something about it would make me cringe if I was to find out it’s intended as entirely sincere rather than a slightly tongue-in-check callback to those times. But that aside, I’m thoroughly enjoying it as a retro listen.

I mean, this isn’t exactly lacking in cheesy clichรฉs, but it’s also pretty catchy.

An understandable epidemic of strikes in the UK

The UK is currently experiencing a whole lot of strikes. There’s at least one a day from now to Christmas. They include unprecedented planned walkouts by nurses, paramedics, ambulance services, railway workers, post handlers, people who work in the education sector, airline workers and dock workers amongst others.

Most seem to be driven by pay offers that are substantially below inflation, which poses real problems when many people are already in the midst of a cost of living crisis. There’s also increasingly arduous and impossible working conditions in some roles, often exacerbated by there being far too many unfilled vacancies for a safe and efficient service to be offered.

What’s nice to see is that despite the best attempts of the Government, and some parts of the media, to blame the strikers for being greedy, lazy or whatever - the most high-profile unhinged attack perhaps being the chairman of the Conservatives claiming that the people going on strike are supporting Putin - recent surveys suggest that a higher proportion of the public are generally on the side of the strikers rather than the management or government.

Most of the strikes I’ve heard about are in the public sector, but more private interests are not wholly exempt. Perhaps the most dystopian one I’ve read about so far is that employees of the homelessness charity Shelter are contemplating having to go on strike on the basis that their current pay offer may result in they themselves ending up homeless, being unable to afford their own living accommodation.

One common riposte of the government is that “we can’t possibly pay essential civil servants cost of living increases because it’ll make inflation go even higher”. One thing I’ve never understood in these sorts of arguments is why, if they really believe that to be true, they continuously hold back the pay of public servants but yet never seem to legislate for - or even advise - private businesses to do the same.

Well, I guess I do understand it; it would probably cause an outcry amongst a certain amount of the public, and be absolute anathema to especially the Truss contingent of the Conservative party. But in theory this to me would be a more consistent form of same idea, even if I would most likely be opposed to it in the same way that I’m opposed to making our public servants even poorer. I’m open to arguments why this isn’t the case though, it’s certainly not my area of expertise.

For what it’s worth, it’s not like the government doesn’t already exert control over the rates of pay private businesses can offer. Two contemporary examples include minimum wage legislation, and the cap on banker’s bonuses.

Finished reading The Prestige by Christopher Priest ๐Ÿ“š.

I really enjoyed this part science-fiction, part gothic horror, tale. Most of the story is presented as diary entries from two 19th century magicians who become obsessed with competing with each other, sabotaging each other’s tricks whilst fervently trying to understand and outperform each other’s best illusions at any cost. The cost turns out to be quite significant.

There’s a famous enough Christopher Nolan film of the book. In some ways it’s presented quite differently and, from memory, it totally misses out the book’s start and end. But it has basically the same main reveal. So the novel’s twists and turns may have had even more impact had I not seen that first. But it was still an enthralling and gripping read, worth it even if you saw the film.

Finished reading Principles and Practice of Structural Equation Modeling by Rex Kline ๐Ÿ“š.

A good introduction to structural equation modelling, a statistical technique designed to investigate how a set of observed variables and/or an implied construct may causally relate to each other.

Here’s a simple example of a solved SEM from Wikipedia.

This book is as clear an intro as I can imagine there is, although some of the later more advanced topics I admit I rather glossed over. It seems the sort of approach you can likely only master by doing, so I’m looking forward to trying out some of the techniques for real.

It’s also a useful refresher on regression and factor analysis, those being components of many SEMs, for anyone looking to remind themselves what those practices all about.

Over here I wrote about a Microsoft Excel / Google Sheets function I only just discovered - LAMBDA().

It lets you define custom functions in terms of existing ones, allowing for a programming-free Turing-complete spreadsheet setup. There’s also a named function syntax available.

The Economist’s model of the recent US midterms, where the Republicans did a lot worse than might have been expected, suggests that Donald Trump is a real liability these days.

This paper’s modelling of results finds Republican candidates who were endorsed by Mr Trump in their primary did about 5 percentage points worse in their district than they would have if they had not received the endorsement. Election deniers suffered an additional one-point decrease in their margin…

Paper notes: Self-Monitoring via Digital Health in Weight Loss Interventions - A Systematic Review

Below are notes I took whilst reading the paper “Self-Monitoring via Digital Health in Weight Loss Interventions - A Systematic Review Among Adults with Overweight or Obesity”, by Michele L. Patel, Lindsay N. Wakayama and Gary G. Bennett.

Self-monitoring is a key component of standard treatments for obesity. Using digital tools, as opposed to paper-based monitoring, may reduce some of the obstacles faced when someone tries to do this, because:

  • They may reduce the time it takes to track one’s diet, e.g. with nutrition databases that automatically populate nutrition info, or features that suggest entries.
  • Wearable technologies allow for passive rather than active monitoring.
  • We may be able to raise engagement levels via individualised feedback and prompts.
  • Phones are very portable meaning that monitoring can be done in real time wherever you are, rather than retrospectively.
  • They may reduce numeracy and health literacy barriers.

This paper reviews 39 randomised controlled trials published between 2009 and 2019 which:

  • featured interventions designed to aid weight loss for participants with overweight or obesity.
  • involved the use of digital tracking tools.
  • had interventions that lasted at least 12 weeks and included outcomes around self-monitoring engagement and a weight loss outcome from at least 6 months after enrollment.

Its primary aim is to determine whether digital self-monitoring is associated with weight loss. Secondarily, it looks to understand the types of digital methods used for self-monitoring and their engagement rates in the associated interventions.

Of the 67 interventions involved:

  • 72% of them involved self-monitoring of weight.
  • 81% involved self-monitoring of dietary intake. Mostly this involved tracking food intake or calories.
  • 82% involved self-monitoring of physical activity. Mostly this meant tracking the durations of physical activity, but sometimes it was step count, types of exercises or other related items.
  • 7% self-monitored specific behaviour change goals.
  • 54% included monitoring all of weight, dietary intake and activity.

Most commonly this was done via a website (66% of treatment arms), with a lower number using mobile apps (33%), wearable devices (16%), electronic scales (12%) and text messaging (12%), PDAs (3%) or IVR technology (3%). In several cases participants were given a choice as to which method they preferred.

Some interventions used commercial websites or apps, others used websites specific to the study.

Only 9% of interventions that recommended daily digital self-monitoring engagement saw participants engage for at least 75% of the days concerned. 58% of arms saw engagements for at least half of the recommended days.

  • These numbers are higher in shorter interventions and vice versa.
  • Engagement was highest when the intervention involved self-monitoring weight. The rate was somewhat lower for diet monitoring, and lower yet for physical activity. This may be confounded by differences in the frequency prescribed the opportunities to to record.
  • Engagement was typically higher with digital as opposed to paper-based monitoring.
  • The addition of counselling usually didn’t increase the engagement rate.
  • Passive self-monitoring behaviours (e.g. wearable devices) had higher engagement rates than active self-monitoring methods, although one study showed that passive weight tracking was less associated with weight loss, perhaps because it doesn’t promote awareness of one’s behaviour as much.

Some studies compared engagement outcomes between monitoring modalities. Factors that were associated with engagement when comparison were possible include the use of:

  • incentives.
  • enhancements.
  • a wearable device.

There was a positive association between high levels of digital self-monitoring and increased weight loss in 74% of cases.

  • The rates didn’t differ much based on what was monitored, with the exception that of the 3 studies that involved monitoring behaviour change goals only 1 showed an association with weight loss.
  • Interventions that lasted at least 12 months were less likely to show an association than those that were shorter. This may either be because of rates self-monitoring engagement or weight loss declining over time.

One limitation of these studies is that participants were never randomised to different levels of self-monitoring; thus high frequency monitors are self-selected and may differ from each other in other ways.

Researchers should use strategies such as the multiphase optimisation strategy to understand the different impact of different self-monitoring strategies.

Research into how to prevent the decline in self-monitoring engagement over time is needed, as well as understanding the predictors and moderators of self-monitoring engagements. Personalisation may be needed; some people may succeed more on one self-monitoring approach than others.

In the mean time adults with overweight or obesity should be encouraged to self-monitor frequently when undergoing interventions that are aimed at weight loss.

Watched My Cousin Rachel๐Ÿ“ฝ.

Fairly captivated by this tale of doubt and obsession and its tense gothic nature, despite the fact I was somewhat ill at the time which induced hefty lapses of concentration.

Based on reading a quick summary of the book it’s based on I’m not sure it handles the all-important ambiguity quite as well as the book might do. But well worth a watch for anyone who isn’t going to read it. Which I aim to at some point, once I’ve had a chance to forget some of the details.

Exciting news about the next version of R’s dplyr library! v1.1 will introduce non-equi joins, as well as rolling and overlap joins. The lack of these was a big frustration to me when I first started with it.

So in the future we’ll be able to do things like:

customers |>
left_join(sales_data, join_by(id, sale_date >= promotion_start))

This is a great reference, giving guidance and citations around common statistical myths. For example, what actually is a p value? What’s wrong with analysing “change from baseline”? etc.

An awesome resource when pushing back against pressure to do subtopimal statistical things

The 2021 census reveals a sizeable shift from people identifying as Christian to instead having no religion

The 2021 England and Wales census results are out now. Most headlines are focussing on the fact that this is the first time that less than 50% of our country now identifies as Christian. It’s dropped 13 percentage points vs the 2011 census and now sits at 46%.

Some are finding this particularly noteworthy in a country where the head of state - King Charles - is also the head of the Church of England, officially the “Defender of the Faith”. 26 Church of England bishops hold power in the House of Lords - the so-called “Lords Spiritual”. In theory state schools are required to hold daily acts of Christian worship, although many in reality do not and suffer no consequences.

Chart showing the shifts in religious identification vs the 2011 census from The Guardian

The vast majority of the difference is explained by an increasing number of people declaring that they do not follow any religion. That’s increased by 12 percentage points compared to 10 years ago and currently sits at 37% of the country; around 22 million people.

In terms of percentage growth rates, some of the smaller “religions” top the leaderboard - although of course there’s a lot more room to grow by incredible sounding rates when you start from a very small number. Devotees of Shamanism have increased from 650 people ten years ago to 8,000 now. Pagans increased from 57,000 to 74,000, and there are now 13,000 folk identifying as Wiccan.

Some Elon Musk Twitter takeover miscellany

In the excoriating misery that is the “Elon Musk bought Twitter” discourse - an institution which has disproven any sense we had between 2016 and 2021 that it couldn’t really get much worse - there have been a couple of brighter spots I’ve appreciated.

Firstly I often ponder about the power of defaults. I’d wonder about what would happen if society ever decided to reverse some of the more ingrained ones. For example, what if if each month the norm was that you actively opted in to your job if you were happy to keep it, rather than the more conventional awkward and emotional opt out scenario.

Another big one is my eternal curiosity about what would happen if the threat of immediate poverty wasn’t there. That might reduce the incentive to stay with your current employer, however unsatisfactory they are, purely on the basis that they’re slightly less dreadful than the prospective life of penury might be.

Happily Elon managed to address both at the same time. He emailed all Twitter employees to let them know that they had to click on a link if they wanted to keep their job; very much an opt-in workflow. Let’s hope that by some magical force everyone read and understood the email by the deadline. Also this is likely illegal in many countries Twitter has employees in, but, you know, Elon.

He also seemed to offer 3 months pay, no questions asked, for those that didn’t want to opt in. Additionally, this is a company where many folk were likely well-paid enough to have some savings (citation needed I accept). Those who held any Twitter stock might in fact be richer than they’d ever been before given how much above market value Elon was forced to buy the company for.

I should note that it’s not all upside; I dare say many of the staff weren’t in a particularly privileged position - the company did not survive on elite coders alone. I also felt especially sorry for people on the kind of foreign visas that require you to keep working or be deported, not least because he’d fired half the company even before he got to this point.

The consequence? Well, it seems like thousands of employees - more than half of Twitter’s entire staff - decided to take the offer and quit. Whole departments in some cases.

Of course this particular situation is very confounded by having the knowledge that if you choose to stay then you do so in the knowledge that your new boss will be something of an egomaniac madman who not only goes to sleep next to an unsettling display of mostly Americana each night but made it very clear that you will have to sacrifice all other aspects of your life so you can do ‘extremely hardcore’ work and be subjected to his fire-at-will tantrums. So I suppose to answer my underlying questions I’d really need to wait for a more natural natural experiment.

The other entertaining thing was when Elon chose to make one of the most consequential and controversial social media moderation decisions of the recent era - whether to allow Donald Trump back in - via, of course, an unconstrained Twitter poll. It gave him the result I imagine he wanted, albeit only by the same kind of margin as the Brexit referendum ended up having - many of us Britons cannot see the numbers 52 and 48 next to each other without a slight flash of anxiety.

He then reinstated the Trump account together with a declaration in Latin - “Vox Populi, Vox Dei” that in its original context means the virtually the opposite of what I imagine he was aiming to project. Translating to something like “The voice of the people is the voice of God”, the earliest known usage of that fragment was around the year 800 in a sentence which in fact reads as “…those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is always close to insanity”.

On the subject of “close to insanity”, in any case Trump was all ‘no thanks, not interested’. I first assumed this was because he was either in a huff that he was subject to the whims of another dangerous weird billionaire, or too busy coming up with some semi-illegal scheme to keep on reducing the voteshare that the US Republicans get by virtue of being their presidential nominee.

But now I understand that he’s just literally not allowed to tweet in his usual style as part of his contract with his current maelstrom of a social network - possibly the most incorrectly named site on the internet - Truth Social. Not to say he won’t break the contract; he has of course plenty of form conducting unethical and likely illegal business practices.

Ok, that’s more than enough on that subject. Honestly I have wasted a lot more time reading about Musk and Twitter in recent times than I should have. But then again I have heard this article is good…must resist, must resist.

Nerd accomplishment: made my first R package today. Super rough around the edges but it works. So far it contains a whopping 1 function I hope will be useful to my team.

It was much easier than I imagined. Hilary Parker’s extremely readable guide got me half the way there.

Finished playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild ๐ŸŽฎ.

This game created something of a sensation when it came out 6 years ago. I’d no doubt it was good but I’d understood it to be a time consuming open-world adventure so figured it wouldn’t work well for my typical adult life 20 minute-ish gaming sessions. However it turns out that I did find it extremely worthy of all the game of the year awards it won so I’m very glad I gave it a go. It is in fact really great, and you can definitely play it in shortish bursts if you have to (and have the willpower to turn it off).

A screenshot of the game, courtesy of IGN.

It tells the story of Link, who awakens with no memory of the past but is nonetheless thrust on a mission to save the land of Hyrule from the evil forces of Ganon.

My fear of its open-world nature meaning that typically I’d find myself wandering around lost for ages not knowing what to do was entirely alleviated by the facts that both 1) the game makes it pretty obvious what your potential next steps are, and 2) the world is so delightful, in how it looks and how it works, that for the first time I was very happy to wander around kinda lost, dealing with the strange little side quests that in most games I’d feel compelled to ignore just to get the main mission done.

The so-called physics and chemistry engine is such that there’s a real sense of freedom. You can do almost anything you think you might be able to do within the scope of the game. Metal swords are good for stabbing monsters, sure. But they can also create a spark which, if you do it with some flint near a pile of wood, will start a fire and let you cook some food. The updraft from said heat source lets you float upwards should you have the right equipment. You could also use the fire to light an arrow and fire it to ignite any dry grass around where monsters are having a nap consume them in a fiery death. There’s probably 100 other things you could do like that I never discovered.

Even watching someone else play it for a while gave me a pleasant sense of the kind of feeling one gets when travelling to a new place and exploring in real life. This was most welcome at the time, as it was the heart of the Covid-19 lockdown when actually travelling anywhere wasn’t allowed.

And as you can see from the screenshot, it’s a mostly pretty, nature-based place, which made me wonder if there’s any research out there about using computer games to provide a mild version of the benefits humans tend to get with actual exploration in the natural world. Whilst this might sound a bit implausible, and it certainly won’t provide the substantial benefits of the physical activity that’s typically associated with exploring the outdoors, there are supposedly health benefits that can be realised via some video games. That’s a topic I’d like to explore sometimes.

One tip that I wished I’d have known before playing (for compulsive in-game hoarders such as myself) is that you really don’t need to keep most of the things you find. You don’t need to collect and upgrade everything to win. If you follow the main storyline then the end battle isn’t actually super hard, and I’m really not that good at videogames - I never really mastered the combat in this one.

But by the end I was constantly running out of inventory space. So feel free to sell most of the “consumable” things that you discover, even some of the valuable ore, to make enough money to buy the stuff in the shops that will make life less frustrating, some of which is basically essential. You can almost always find more of whatever consumables you run out of. Of course if you’re a pro trying to collect and upgrade 100% of everything then this may be terrible advice.

Listening to Hold The Girl by Rina Sawayama ๐ŸŽถ.

Whilst the album’s approach was purportedly inspired by Taylor Swift’s Folklore, perhaps performing some kind of therapeutic function for Rina, perhaps what most stands out about it is the sheer variety of genres that the songs encompass.

Wikipedia currently lists it as being some combination of:

1990s alternative rock, pop rock, soft rock, Europop, trance, industrial, country pop, hi-NRG, pop punk, Eurotrance, stadium rock, Britpop, disco, R&B, hyperpop, J-pop, house, Eurodance, electronic, UK garage, techno, folk and psychedelic music.

In any case, there’s got to be something for most people on this album. Here’s one I liked.

What happens on your iPhone no longer stays on your iPhone

The rule of thumb that, in exchange for having expensive seeming prices and usage restrictions on its devices, Apple was less likely to creepily surveil and store your personal behavioural data on its servers for undisclosed and unknowable reasons seems to be invalid now.

Just a few years ago we saw Apple’s “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone” marketing slogan. More recently though researchers have shown that, even when you disable the sharing of device analytics, the App Store and many of the other built-in iPhone apps send tracking info back to apple.

…including what you tapped on, which apps you search for, what ads you saw, and how long you looked at a given app and how you found it. The app sent details about you and your device as well, including ID numbers, what kind of phone youโ€™re using, your screen resolution, your keyboard languages, how youโ€™re connected to the internet…

…your list of watched stocks, the names stocks you viewed or searched for and time stamps for when you did it, as well as a record of any news articles you see in the app…

I guess if the future of Apple does end up involving showing scammy looking adverts promoting gambling wherever they can slot them in then this is the kind of thing we would expect.

Anyone who occasionally has to reference journal papers etc. may find the DOI Citation Formatter a very useful tool. Give it the DOI of the paper in question, pick your formatting style from a truly vast array of institutional options, and out pops a nicely formatted reference.

I learned a lot about eating poo this week. Apparently it’s well-known that rabbits eat their own faeces - or at least the caecotroph variant of droppings. The nutrients it still contains are good for their health. But it wasn’t until recently that we found a species that eats a good amount of any other species' excrement.

A genetic analysis shows that foxes eat dog poo, particularly in environments where there’s not much else out there to eat. Unsurprisingly poop is much easier to hunt than wild prey. Perhaps more surprisingly it has a similar calorific content.

It does potentially add to the risk of disease, including of new pathogens appearing - so I doubt “I’m feeding the foxes” can be considered a valid excuse for not being bothered to pick up any dog faeces you may be responsible for.

The relationship between dog years and human years isn't linear

There’s a common idea that you can translate the age of a dog to the equivalent age of a human by multiplying by 7. It’s easily disprovable at a basic level insomuch as different breeds of dogs tend to live for different numbers of years . I chanced upon a preprint that also suggests the idea of a linear “human years multiplied by X” isn’t right either.

Something more akin to reality turns out to involve slightly more complicated math. The researchers based their results on Labrador retrievers as the reference dog, and determined via comparing methylomes between species that the relationship between humans and dog lives is better expressed as:

human age = 16ln(dog age) + 31

The ln there represents taking the natural log of a number, which you can calculate here.

One advantage of this non-linear view is that it allows certain physiological milestones line up much better - for example lining up the typical time puppies and humans develop teeth, as well as correspondingly similar average overall lifespans.

Book notes: All Our Relations, by Tanya Talaga

We Were Always Here

7 girls who lived in Canadian’s First Nation communities whose lives intersected with each other committed suicide within one year. They may have been preventable - funding had been requested from Health Canada for a mental health team but had been denied, along with cuts to other related services. No response to the results of an inquiry into the suicide pandemic were received from the government.

Children in Canada’s First Nation communities also die of preventable or curable diseases such as strep throat due to a lack of access to medical care. There’s a lack of medical staff, qualifications, supplies and poor clinical standards.

The Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) constantly writes and sends studies, reports and funding applications to the federal government requesting basic services such as clean water, sewage treatment, fire trucks and police services, but little progress has been made.

This a result of colonial history. First Nations communities are not helplessly asking the federal government to solve all their problem. Rather, today’s legislation results in their only power being to make proposals and ask for funding.

Across the world, Indigenous people that live in colonised countries see much higher rates of suicide in comparison to the equivalent non-Indigenous populations.

  • In Canada, suicide and self-inflicted injuries are the leading causes of death for First Nations people up to the age of 44. For men age 15-24, suicide rates are 126 per 100,000 vs 24 per 10000 for non-Indigenous young men.
  • In the US, Native Americans commit suicide 3-10x the national average.
  • The Indigenous people in the Amazonas, Brazil are 4.8% of the state’s population but 19% of suicides.
  • 5.5% of Australia Aboriginal deaths are suicide vs 1.7% in the non-Indigenous population.

The high Indigenous suicide rate has only been seen in modern times. Rates were low in Canada before the forced resettlement and Indian Residential Schools.

Colonised people share a story:

  • Historical injustices of colonisation
  • Forced eviction from their land, by death or segregation.
  • Erasure of their culture and identity caused by government and religious policy.
  • Intergenerational trauma from experiences of poverty, abuse and oppression.
  • Exposure to suicidal tendencies.
  • Discriminatory legislation, now and in the past
  • Substance abuse and violence triggered by being economically, socially and culturally marginalised.

Indigenous children grow up without access to the basic determinants of health:

  • Income.
  • Status.
  • Clean water and air.
  • Safe houses.
  • Supportive families and communities.
  • Education.
  • Health care.
  • A connection to their traditions.

The historical separation from their land and culture has left a spiritual emptiness. Traditionally Indigenous Nations have a connection to the land, believing that humans are part of a continuum of life on Earth and have the responsibility to safeguard the land for the next generation; everyone has a purpose.

Impressions of Indigenous people held by colonist nations:

  • Before 1492 (Christopher Columbus), “Noble Savages”.
  • In the 19th century: social Darwinism was used to justify hierarchies of class, race and ethnicity, in line with Imperial desires.
  • In the 20th century, portrayals in film and TV by non-Indigenous actors created a stereotypical image of an Indian wearing a headdress on a horse.

One reason these stereotypes abound is that it’s very rare that any written narrative from Indigenous people are publicised. For example the Indian Residential School system was excluded from Canadian school curricula for years, meaning the majority of Canadians weren’t aware of the parent-child separation and forced assimilation the Indigenous people were subject to.

The Indigenous worldview is of being cyclically connected to the Earth, to the Spirit and to each other. This is different to the typical Judeo-Christian Western outlook which sees humans as top of a hierarchy, supported by the creation story, bolstered by evolutionary theory.

Western thinking tends towards the linear, from the viewpoints of psychology, science, rationality, as opposed to spiritual or cyclical thinking. Indigenous people have thus been measured against a definition of intelligence that undermines their culture, traditions and knowledge.

There’s evidence that Indigenous people have lived in Australia, Canada and the Americas for thousands of years, in large and complex societies with their own customs, laws, systems of governance, cultures, moral codes, monarchs, chieftains and evidence of some form of democracy years before Europeans even discussed it

Big Brother’s Hunger

150,000 Indigenous Canadian children were separated from their parents and sent to residential schools. From 1880-1996 139 church-run government-funded such schools existed. Their intent was to convert the children to Christianity and isolate them from their homes, traditions and culture in order to assimilate them into the “Canadian” way of life. In some, children were regularly physically and sexually abused, left hungry - one even used an electric chair for punishment.

The US had similar schools, founded by Captain Pratt who believed Indians were born as blank slates, and removing them from their culture and family structure would let them be shaped into Americans. The children’s hair was cut, their names changed and their native languages forbidden.

Huge mines have destroyed swathes of boreal forests, preventing them taking CO2 out of the atmosphere. Resulting displacement of water has further damaged ecosystems.

Big Brother demands what Little Brother has in order to feed its industry, construct its sprawling urban housing developments, and manufacture goods for its consumer-driven society.

The arrival of fur traders changed the Indigenous relationship with the land. Before then they only hunted for what they needed and shared with others. Now there was an incentive to take as much as possible.

The arrival of Christian missionaries changed their relationship with the Creator, fragmenting and imposing a new belief system.

Churches claimed they couldn’t do their missionary work effectively because people were spread throughout the land. The Indian Act was created to force Indigenous people onto concentrated reserves, and formed the residential schools to take their children away.

In 1493, Pope Alexander VI created “papal bulls”, aka the Doctrine of Discovery, to legitimise the Spanish Empire’s conquest of the Americas. They introduced the concept of “land belonging to no-one” - terra nullius.

  • For First Peoples that phrase implies the land belongs to everyone - land cannot be owned.
  • The Catholic Church and European Empires interpreted it as land ripe for acquiring.

They ignored the existence of the First People in terms of land rights at the same time as acknowledging their population as a way of increasing Christianity’s dominance.

After the US declared independence from Great Britain in 1776 no account was made in the treaties for the sovereignty of the Native American Nations. Acquisition and occupation of their land was legalised via hundreds of individual treaties with different Indigenous Nations - a divide and conquer strategy.

Very few of the terms and conditions supposedly granted to Indigenous peoples in these treaties were actually upheld.

The 1830 Indian Removal Act permitted the US president to resettle all American Indians east of the Mississippi river. Those that resisted e.g. the Cherokee were forcibly removed, held in prison camps. Thousands died from disease, exposure or starvations - the “Trail of Tears”.

When miners found gold in Indigenous lands there was an effort to kill all the buffalo - destroying the food source, hunting grounds and way of life of the Plains Indians severed their attachment to the land and allowed the miners to move in.

In Canada the 1876 Indian Act was introduced to govern all aspects of Indigenous people’s lives - land management, education, culture, identity etc.

~6000 children died due to mistreatment in the Indian Residential schools.

Even though the Inuit were not covered by the act, similar tactics were used against them. There the RCMP killed their sled dogs, severing the source of sustenance, economy and the ability to travel far to visit friends or hunt. The population grew listless, with an existential and spiritual emptiness.

The policy of extermination, isolation, and assimilation repeats itself in the history of Indigenous Nations throughout the world, and still continues today.

In Brazil, sugar cane plantations used Indigenous and African slave labour. The Indigenous people suffered epidemics of tuberculosis, measles, influenza, venereal disease, eye ailments as well as torture and extermination. Those left in the reservations were often ruled by Jesuits - “religious concentration camps”.

In the 1950s-1960s the Brazilian genocide continued, driven by a boom in rubber production. Their indigenous people, e.g. the Guarani people, are still under violent attack today, in violation of international law.

The Third Space

The “third space” is a blank space between Aboriginal culture and non-Aboriginal culture.

In Indigenous cultures family units differ from the western traditional nuclear 1-house family by consisting of large networks of strong kinship, sometimes the entire community.

Between 1910-1970, the Australian government removed ~ 50,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands children from their homes - the “Stolen Generations”. The policy was influenced by social Darwinism theory - as a supposedly inferior race these people would either die out naturally or be assimilated into white society.

Currently Aboriginal youth are often born into unstable surroundings, to parents with substance abuse issues, extreme poverty, social exclusion or who never had the chance to acquire the skills needed to raise children.

Without a large scale mental health system to support them, it’s left to the people suffering to try and find their way back to health.

Trauma isolates people from each other, making it unlikely they’ll reach out to others. The only time you feel safe is when you are complete alone.

Sexual abuse is a key driver of Indigenous communities' high suicide rate in Canada.

  • The suicide rate amongst young Indigenous women in a Canadian province was 30x higher than same-aged non-Indigenous women, vs 6x higher in males.

It’s hard to understand what it’s like to grow up in an environment where suicide is “normal” if you are not part of one of these communities.

Risk factors of suicide include:

  • in-womb exposure to alcohol
  • growing up in an overcrowded house
  • malnutrition
  • food insecurity
  • neglect
  • sexual abuse
  • close relatives dying by suicide (potentially leading to suicide clusters).

Experiences, behaviours or inherited characteristics that come from things like stable homes, no abuse, good education and a connection to culture act as protective factors.

What is clear is that at the heart of the suicides is a lack of the determinants of health and social equity โ€” health care, housing, and a safe environment

In the US, Native American youth are 2x as likely to be exposed to domestic violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse and poverty vs other groups.

Indigenous population suicides also suffer from underreporting or inaccuracies, due to lack of access to medical treatment and epidemiological tracking.

Being exposed to a previous generation of your family that went through residential school associates with an increased risk for suicide ideation. If two generations then increased chance of reporting a suicide attempt vs being exposed to just one.

Chandler and Lalonde hypothesise that part of adolescent development is a search for a sense of belonging.

“Scooping” Indigenous children to place with white foster families is an issue in Canada, Australia and Brazil.

This increased dramatically in the 1960s. The welfare workers used Euro-Canadian ways and values of child raising to judge the conditions of Indigenous families. If they saw the families ate only wild game, berries and vegetables, or saw some of the social issues associated with reserves (e.g. poverty, addiction), they assumed the child was in danger. Undoubtedly they often believed they were helping the child. But taking the child away induces trauma from the separation from community and family and damage to their identity development.

Today less than 8% of Canadian children under 4 years old are Indigenous but they represent 51% of preschoolers in foster care.

I Breathe For Them

Facebook is a widely used communication tool in isolated Indigenous communities. They’ve attended events discussing suicide due to their potential in detecting suicidal behaviour online.

The Indigenous worldview that body, mind and spirit are connected have led to holistic healing practices, traditions, medicine and spiritual leaders/counsellors that take responsibility for an individual’s entire physical, spiritual and mental health. This is unlike the Western medicine approach which offers different specialists and tools for each component of health.

Many Indigenous people do not trust the Western health system, understandable after a history of having being removed from their land and families, quarantined and confined to “Indian hospitals” with discriminatory behaviour. They can be reluctant to access care for fear that it will not be culturally appropriate and may result in them being removed from their community.

Potentially harmful experiments have been done without consent on Indigenous populations,

  • Between 1942-1952, Dr Percy Moore performed nutritional experiments on children in residential schools without consent, involving malnourishing children. Some died.
  • The BCG vaccine was tested on infants without parental consent.

Following the British example of locking women who were believed to be prostitutes up in hospitals under the Contagious Diseases Act, “Lock hospitals” were established in Australian territory supposedly to treat Aboriginal women for venereal disease.

  • 90% of Aboriginal people in central Australia reported wanting alternatives to hospital care, vs 47% of non-Aboriginal people.
  • 1/3 of American Indian and Alaskan Native population don’t have access to a doctor or clinic.
  • 1/3 of Native Americans don’t have health insurance, vs 11% of White Americans.
  • The life expectancy of Native Americans is 5.5 years lower than others, for reasons including “inadequate education, disproportionate poverty, discrimination in the delivery of health services, and cultural differences”.

In the 1920s the government created segregated Indian hospitals. Community and city hospitals refused to treat Indigenous patients or kept them in separate wards, often overcrowded, badly ventilated or in other bad conditions.

Racially segregated hospitals were common for other populations too in early 20th century Canada, e.g. wards for Chinese and Japanese patients.

It used to be believed that TB got more virulent when an Indigenous person contracted it. The death rates from TB were particularly higher for children living in residential schools. But their illness was often ignored or improperly treated.

Some scholars believe that South African legislators studied the Canadian Indian Act as part of creating apartheid.

In 1953 an amendment to the Indian Act made it illegal for an Indigenous person to refuse to see a doctor, go to hospital or attempt to leave a hospital before being discharged.

If a patient died in hospital their family was responsible for the cost of transporting the body home. They often couldn’t afford to do this, so many Indigenous bodies were buried in unmarked graveyards far from home.

Most Indian hospitals closed in the 1960s, but the healthcare of Indigenous people is still deficient. This is despite the fact that since 2007 Article 24(2) of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that Indigenous people have the right to access the same standard of health care as non-Indigenous people.

Housing shortages make it hard to raise stable families.

  • Indigenous children are 2x as likely to die before the age of 1 as others.
  • In Canada half of all First Nations children live in poverty. Their life expectancy is 5-7 years less than other Canadians.
  • Secondary school graduation rates on reserves at 35% vs 75% for non-Indigenous children.
  • Indigenous people are overrepresented in prisons.
  • In some communities opioid use is very high - 80% of more, yet addiction counsellors are rare.

The Canadian medical system isn’t designed to take into account the current day impacts of historical systemic racism.

There are no doctors in NAN communities, and nursing stations are poorly equipped. First Nations lack healthcare, medication, treatment for chronic illnesses, diagnostic equipment. The Ambulance Act, Fire Prevention and Protection Act and Health Care Quality Act do not apply.

“The system isn’t broken; it is designed to do what it is doing.”

True reconciliation requires rights and legislation.

Adverse childhood experiences impact a child’s later health outcomes. Sexual abuse is one of the most damaging forms. 80% of suicide attempts from young people can be connected to adverse events. The risk of suicide remains high over the sufferer’s entire life.

Interventions should be designed and implemented by Indigenous people and communities. The Sami National Centre on Mental Health and Substance Abuse (SANKS) is an example of this being done in Scandinavia.

We Are Not Going Anywhere

The Parliament of Canada in Ottawa sits on the unceded territory of the Algonquins.

In 2017, PM Trudeau committed to a renewal of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous Peoples, eventually leading to removing the Indian Act.

Participants of the determiNATION conference agreed that Indigenous peoples' self governance should not be enforced by the Indian Act. There should be no requirement to abandon cultural and spiritual practices, assimilate into the dominant society, have reserves governed by the federal government or have to register to be considered “real Indians”.

The same year the Joint Action Table Health Transformation Work Plan was signed which aims to develop a decolonised community-driven health system that gives adequate funding and permits the First Nations to be in control of their healthcare.

Governments can’t give “belonging” - they should not be the ones to determine who is or isn’t Indigenous.

The Dakota Access Pipeline was to be constructed in a way to damage sacred sites, contaminate drinking water and violate treaty rights. Whilst it ended up going ahead, the protest was the first time that many Indigenous Nations came together in peaceful protest.

The Canadian state education system deliberately keeps the general population unaware of the physical, cultural and spiritual genocide that Indigenous Peoples have been subject to over time. It teaches about “nation-building”, but in a way that treats Aboriginal people as bystanders or obstacles. This reinforces the idea that white European civilisation is superior to the Indigenous civilisation.

Lawmakers, judges, politicians et al thus grew up without learning the real history of their country; and this lack of knowledge shaped the policies, rules and programs they create. Non-Indigenous people haven’t truly been able to understand the calls for justice by the Indigenous leaders.

Many teachers have decided to learn and teach more about Canada’s true history, even without direction by the government.

Reconciliation requires actions to end social inequity. In Nunangat, the median Inuit income is 23% of the non-Inuit income, and they have rates of TB 250x higher than other Canadians.

There have been hopeful developments, with the government creating a Quality of Life Secretariat to lead suicide prevention initiatives.

The strategy also supports reducing overcrowding, poverty and crime, and re-examining the justice system. As well as high incarceration rates amongst Indigenous people, there are calls to incorporate Indigenous laws, traditions and restorative justice into the system.

It is clear that Indigenous Nations must be given the political and moral authority over their own communities that historically they have been denied

Finished reading All Our Relations by Tanya Talaga ๐Ÿ“š.

Starting out by focussing on a suicide epidemic amongst young Canadian Indigenous people, this book chronicles the historic, and unfortunately oftentimes ongoing, injustices that have been meted out on Indigenous people ever since the usually white European colonists ‘discovered’ the ‘New World’.

From a past of overtly eliminating a people they regarded as inferior, through to more recent decades which included a ‘residential schools’ policy forcibly assimilating any remaining Indigenous children, the author argues that the now-dominant society has caused physical, mental, cultural and spiritual crises amongst entire communities of Indigenous people.

A few success stories are included showing that there may be hope when these communities are able to develop or collaborate on culturally and practically relevant solutions to situations so bad that poor health, poverty, addiction, isolation, despair and even suicide is commonplace.

The focus seems mainly on the Canadian experience, but several examples from elsewhere are provided. Upsettingly, they lead towards the conclusion that the offences committed against, and resulting challenges faced by, Indigenous people around the world are quite similar.

Unflatpacked some garden furniture today, just in time for it to be far too cold outside to actually use.

The Conservative Autumn Statement seems short

I’m somewhat shocked to feel this way given the source, but I don’t hate all the policies from the Conservative’s autumn statement announced yesterday. At least not in the short term.

It’s amazing how much changes within a few weeks. Whilst some of the policies under the Truss administration weren’t nearly as tax-cutting as it seemed on the surface, they were extremely regressive. Just last month we were hearing that the top rate of income tax was going to be entirely abolished - free money for the rich! And now under the Sunak administration it’s actually going to be applied to more people; anyone with an income of over around ยฃ125k as opposed to the current ยฃ150k.

Benefits are going up inline with inflation, we’re seeing an increase in capital gains tax and a fiscal drag on inheritance tax. And a windfall tax on the incredible profits of energy producers. All very un-Conservative-stereotype.

Overall it’s still grim news in the economy - basically everyone is going to be worse off in the near feature. Living standards are set to fall by an unprecedented 7%. Plenty of this is due to the abject mismanagement of the economy by the Conservative party in recent times. Unemployment, inflation and energy bills are all set to rise. If you’re already struggling that’s obviously a much huger burden than if you’re doing well enough right now.

The statement’s policies are not nearly enough to make life particularly bearable for anyone already in or near crisis. But, I guess, credit where credit’s due - the tax changes announced yesterday are actually somewhat progressive.

Here’s a reproduction of the impact calculated by the Resolution Foundation provided by the Guardian.

Where the statement is rather more disingenuous is with regards to cuts in public funding. Cuts to public services tend to impact the poorest in society more than the rich. Cuts are certainly in the statement, and they’re big (and dangerous). But the bulk of them are scheduled not to hit until 2024-2025. Of course by then there’s a good chance we’ll have had a general election. A cynic might suggest it’s a cursed gift from a party that doesn’t really believe it’ll be in power at that point.