Sunday, July 29, 2012

There's no such thing as women's rights

Or gay rights, religious rights, disability rights, or any other sub-group. If rights mean anything they have to be universal. From a legal, democratic, moral perspective, rights are worthless if they come with caveats that they only apply to a subset of humanity. If you want something to apply to your group and no other, that's a privilege, and that's not protected, and if you complain that you can't get your privileges, you will sound like a whiny spoilt brat.

In other words, a free and open society gives everyone the right to be a member of a religion, if they choose, the freedom to marry who they choose, they freedom to dress as they choose without fear of rape, or imprisonment, the freedom to protest, the freedom from persecution and bullying and discrimination, the right of a child to a safe, stable family home, whatever form that takes, and whatever you believe, others have the right to speak out against those beliefs.

I understand why different groups exist for women's rights and gay rights and every other subset, because there are different battles to be fought to achieve universal rights, but those who forget those rights are universal, particularly those who call out others for infringing on their rights, do themselves, and humanity, a gross disservice.

I have always tried to judge others purely on their actions. It has not been easy, given the background noise in society that wants to create tribal groups of "them" and "us" but I have never seen a reliable discriminator between the two groups, so I can only judge on what I see, and put most of humanity in a group that I don't know enough about to judge.

Human rights are not an obstacle to be worked around, they're not an imposition from disconnected bureaucrats or lawyers (or gods), and they must apply universally, regardless of background, genetics or geography, and can only be restricted by actions enshrined within the declaration of human rights, namely by an open court of law, in a free and fair trial.

What about "your" human rights? They are exactly the same as everyone else's. That’s how basic humanity works.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Photoshop this

And photoshop that.
Maybe I'm immune to the self-esteem hit that comes from photoshop because I'm a man. Maybe I don't let advertisers take it away to sell back to me as a product.
But I think it's all about this video from when I was younger. If computers can make videos as realistic yet disturbing as this, why should I believe any image that could even have been sniffed by a CPU? Have a watch and ask if seeing really is believing, and then go check out some more Chris Cunningham. Disturbing and brilliant.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

They're Just like us

I'm reposting a few of my older posts from a dead blog. Given the chants and problems with RFC this week, I was reminded of this one, so wanted to re-share it.
I'm getting a bit slow on updating this in my old age, but I just wanted to give some thoughts on an article I saw in the Sunday Herald last weekend about the Catholic Church in Scotland withdrawing support for shared campus schools and preferring to keep their schools separate. I'm sure they have their own reasons, but it always saddens me to see actions like this, because it does lead to this idea that people from one community are different from people in another, which goes against my experience, and it's only a short jump from "different" to get to "better".
What interests me most about these sorts of divisions however is all the articles talking about the charities, community groups and other organisations working to bring children from different backgrounds together, to play football or form an orchestra, or whatever, whether it's Catholic and Protestant, Israeli and Palestinian, natives and asylum seekers, etc. The one thing that all these projects seem to have in common it the sense of astonishment and amazement the children have when they first turn up that causes them to utter, "They're just like us". When that sort of news comes as a surprise, there's something seriously wrong with our humanity.
Be nice, shake a stranger's hand tomorrow.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

A forest of -isms

I know a lot of people who fight against discrimination under their own banner, whether it's sexism, racism, ageism, disability, homophobia or anything else. I can't be a card-carrying member of any of those groups, as a white, middle class straight man, I can only support those who are discriminated against.

I support equality in all those guises, for many reasons, but the simplest to explain is a lesson I learned in my first year as an undergraduate AI student.

We were discussing early applications of AI during the cold war to detect tanks in photographs. Feed thousands of photos into a machine, get it to tell you which ones contain tanks and you can sort through many more photos than with just people. The problem was that they trained the machine on a set of photos where all the tank pictures were taken in the morning and all the non-tank pictures were taken in the afternoon, so all the machine could detect was the patterns of light, not the tanks.

Being Edinburgh, we also discussed another problem : how can you tell men from women? Do you look at the simplified forms on toilet doors and take women in dresses and men in trousers? What happens when you look out the window and see women in jeans and men in kilts?

Look through the examples and find any case where it's a clear cut divide between "them" and "us". Where one group is always stronger, faster, smarter, where you can prejudge anyone to say if they look like that or they sound like that, then this is the sort of person they are and this is what they are capable of.

And if you think you've found one, a reason why "they" shouldn't be in the country or only "us" are allowed that job, check your inputs, because where you think you see tanks, you might just have detected a sunrise, and what you're looking for may not even be there.

And that is why, at a basic, fundamental level, I cannot begin to comprehend someone who, without knowing anything about someone else, can presume to know anything about their empathy, intelligence, determination, motivation or anything else simply from their hair colour, cup size, choice of warm clothing or any other arbitrary characteristic, particularly when it's from people putting themselves down because of some perceived characteristic projected onto them by themselves or by others.

Be yourself, and be proud to be yourself. All that the world should expect of you is to walk tall and work hard. Don't be put in a box because "women suck at maths" or "depression is just an excuse". I promise to treat you as an equal until your own actions, and no-one else's, let me see what you're really capable of.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Moral Overdraft

Spending money is easy. So is making money, if you're prepared to burn through your moral overdraft and let someone else pay the interest.

Maybe you lock down your business model by convincing the government that copyright should be grounds to restrict the Internet access of consumers without a free trial.

Maybe you convince a court that a photoshopped image of a competitors product looks like your own.

Maybe you sell newspapers attacking people on benefits when you are a non-dom paying no tax?

Maybe you threaten to abandon your factory because the workers dare to talk about having a union?

Maybe you're a university who charges thousands in tuition fees and then puts all your staff on short term contracts so you don't have to pay them permanent benefits.

Maybe you sell mortgages to people who can't afford them so you can package them up and sell them on to investors who don't understand them.

Maybe you charge your highest prices and largest fees to those least able to afford them.

Maybe you get the taxpayer to insure you to sell arms to dictators.

Behind every great fortune is a great crime. Whose moral overdraft are you paying the interest on?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A national identity

I've been having a few debates recently about independence, triggered
by the recent SNP victory in Scotland, and I'm still trying to
crystallise my views on the subject, so I'm going to take a few posts
to talk about how I feel, to get away from the political and economic
arguments, and think about the more personal arguments, so please chip
in with your thoughts.

Today's post is inspired by David Mitchell mourning Britain and
discussing British Identity in the context of independence winning out
in a referendum (
). I know a lot of people I know on Facebook and Twitter feel the same
way, but I don't. I have Scottish parents, and 3 of my 4 grandparents
were born in Scotland. The other, having been born in Berwick Upon
Tweed, would give me entitlement to an English passport after
secession, but was unlikely to admit it.

I was, however, born and raised in England, and my accent makes this
clear, but I always spent time visiting my extended family in
Scotland, read The Beano and The Sunday Post (Oor Wullie meant that,
years later, I found nothing difficult in the language of
Trainspotting), and I always supported the Scottish Rugby team, but
also supported Nigel Mansell and Richard Noble. My heroes include
James Watt, but also Alan Turing and Albert Einstein. I did feel that
when I moved to Edinburgh for university however, it did feel like a
homecoming, but then I must admit that I never quite felt like I
fitted in, in England, or in Scotlad. I never felt excluded, more like
a welcome traveller passing through. Partly because of these
allegiances and partly from a conscious decision that I always wanted
to keep my options open, looking out rather than in.

So, my identity has always included Scottishness, but it also includes
Britishness, bound in the concepts of fair play, tolerance and
inclusiveness, and a European identity forged from Human Rights and
freedom that extends across borders. I am, too, a geek, a musician, an
athiest, a husband, a son, a brother, and in many other ways, part of
a family. I have many identities, and the legal status of this land at
one end of this group of islands will not change that. An independent
Scotland will not destroy Britain, or a British identity, but it will
further define it as a unique identity apart from an English identity.
The English identity, like the Scottish, Irish, and many other
national identities, is a tribal one, where different regions maintain
a separate identity but also share a common one. The conflict of the
English identity is that it is bound so tightly to the British
identity (and formally the Imperial identity), that it can be hard to
separate them.

This is not a problem for Scotland, and this is not a problem for
Britain, it is not even a problem for England, despite fears to the
contrary. England will still be the home for the commonwealth head of
state, who will also remain Scotland's head of state according to the
SNP's proposal. England will still unite behind one football team, one
rugby team and one cricket team, but will also be a nation whose
people support other teams, permanently or temporarily. It is a
multi-cultural, globalised nation, at its best when it looks out to
the world with eyes that care about tolerance and fairness, those
British eyes that have readily embraced Indian cuisine, Japanese car
makers, American culture, and the best things from around the world.

So where does this leave Scottish identity? Scottish identity cannot
be separated from a British identity, or a Celtic identity
(particularly in the West), a Viking identity (particularly in the
North East), or a European identity. It is also impossible to define
the modern Scottish identity without talking about the neighbours, a
Scottish identity will always be linked to the English and Irish
identities, and independence cannot change that. The Home Nations (in
the inclusive Rugby sense, that includes the Republic of Ireland) will
always be a very powerful force, and will always constitute the major
part of the Scottish identity, either viewed as equal partners, as
trading nations, as an area of free migration, as nations united in
sporting passion or in our shared history. The political make-up
should never define your identity. When politics and nationalism get
mixed up, you get extremes that defend "Britain" at all costs and
those who defend their own patch at all costs. It won't take much for
Scottish nationalism to be dragged into the same, drawn out, bloody
resolution that has haunted Irish independence, but the sectarianism
that drives that does not have to be part of the Scottish identity,
any more than poor diets, low life expectancy or mass emigration.
Whether you support independence or not, have a think about what being
Scottish or being British means to you. What is your identity, and is
it the identity that you have chosen or is it an identity that has
been chosen for you?

And if you're not sure what you think of the British identity, have a
read of the foreigners' view of Britain ( )

Be fair, and be tolerant. And above all else, be yourself.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Justice in Pakistan?

I've had an idea in my head for a while that I wanted to start
blogging about things a bit more political than my technical blog. Not
party political, because frankly, that bores me, but political in the
grander sense. Today I was having a discussion on Facebook about Osama
bin Laden, and whether killing can ever be a good thing. And I would
say that the question isn't what is right, a question of if it is OK
in this circumstance, but not in that circumstance.

It is a question of justice and forgiveness. If justice and
forgiveness are to mean anything, then they, like the human rights
they are based on, must be universal. We cannot say "this person is
not worthy of justice" because then justice is hollow and becomes a
tool to control others by imposing values on others that you would not
follow yourself.

To demonise one man for his actions dehumanises both him and those who
oppose him. Simply calling him "evil" absolves you of responsibility
to hear his grievances. Not listening to the victim does not justify
the crime of murder. And for those who would say that he would not
give his victims compassion, I would ask why you choose his actions as
a guiding principle when you condemn those same actions in his hands?

Will this death undo all those who have died before? No. Will it stop
future terrorist attacks? Unfortunately not. Is celebrating death,
anyone's death distasteful? Of course.

Do you want justice, revenge or compassion? What sort of person do you
really want to be?