Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.

I rediscovered James Clark’s excellent anti-XML Schema email yesterday. It’s a thing of beauty. There really is no justification for XML Schema.

If you want to smash your head against the desk repeatedly and contemplate genocide, XML Schema is the format for you. If you want to validate an XML file against a schema, try RELAX NG instead.

And if you are wondering why I need to validate XML files and don’t just use JSON instead… there are reasons.

Despite constant claims of meritocracy, UK hiring practices still rife with subtle homophobia

A new study out of Anglia Ruskin University:

In this article, I report on a field experiment (144 job-seekers and their correspondence with 5549 firms) that tested the extent to which sexual orientation affects the labour market outcomes of gay and lesbian job-seekers in the United Kingdom. Their minority sexual orientations, as indicated by job-seekers’ participation in gay and lesbian university student unions, negatively affected their workplace prospects. The probability of gay or lesbian applicants receiving an invitation for an interview was 5.0 percent (5.1%) lower than that for heterosexual male or female applicants. In addition, gay men and lesbians received invitations for interviews by firms that paid salaries that were 1.9 percent (1.2%) lower than those paid by firms that invited heterosexual male or female applicants for interviews. In addition, in male- or female-dominated occupations, gay men and lesbians received fewer invitations for interviews than their non-gay and non-lesbian counterparts. Furthermore, gay men and lesbians also received fewer invitations to interview for positions in which masculine or feminine personality traits were highlighted in job applications and at firms that did not provide written equal opportunity standards, suggesting that the level of discrimination depends partly on the personality traits that employers seek and on organization-level hiring policies.

This mirrors previous findings in Greece, the United States, Canada and Sweden. The international evidence is clear: if your status as a gay or lesbian person is clearly evident from items in your CV, you are less likely to be hired and you are likely to make less money. There is no doubt in my mind that homophobia is still a systemic component of hiring practices—the evidence is clear. This is not a reason to hide away—the cost to my well-being of remaining in the closet was significantly more than the cost of discriminatory practices in employment is likely to be, but that kind of thing is a subjective evaluation every gay person has to make for themselves.

Studies like this, and the equivalent studies done on responses to CVs with names connoting specific racial groups should destroy any dubious claim that the business world is purely “meritocratic”, just as the drastic rise in women playing in symphony orchestras following the introduction of blind auditions did.

The disappointing thing about this study is that the first “CV test” was done back in 1981 in Toronto and found a 10% difference in response rate to applicants with gay-related experience on their CV. In 2015, in this study conducted here in the United Kingdom, the country with the best legal situation in the whole of Europe for LGBT people with regards to equal rights, that figure is still 5%. It’s great that the figure has halved. But it’s depressing that it hasn’t dropped further and faster especially given how well other measures of equality have shifted. Despite the claims that with the passage of same-sex marriage there are no more fights left (which was always bullshit), there is still clearly documented evidence of bias in hiring practices.

Is Parliament deliberative?

Caroline Lucas MP has an interesting piece in the Independent about what it is like becoming an MP for the first time, and the things you learn.

Of particular interest:

One of the most shocking things to me was the discovery that most MPs have no idea what they’re voting on, when the division bell rings. And it suits the whips to keep it that way. The fact that my modest proposal – that Members should be required to include brief explanatory statements alongside their amendments – was met with such hostility by the Party hierarchies is indicative of the threat posed to Party discipline by MPs actually thinking for themselves.

Another shock was to see how the powers of parliamentary scrutiny are so poorly exercised. Membership of the ad hoc ‘bill committees’ set up to go through draft legislation line by line is one of the best opportunities to have direct influence over future laws. That’s why the whips generally try to keep people with too much expertise or independence of mind off these committees. Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP for Totnes and a former GP, tells of her enthusiasm to sit on the Health and Social Care bill committee. Instead, the whips told her to sit on a committee examining double taxation in the Cayman Islands. When she protested that she knew nothing of the subject, the whips replied that was all to the good: all they wanted her to do was to vote the right way at the right time.

I’ll note that this was already known by anyone who has watched a few Parliamentary debates, but seeing an MP write it all down is profoundly angering. It leaves me thinking of the last three lines from Dover Beach:

And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

The main thing that the quotes from Lucas demonstrate is precisely how far the House of Commons is from the ideal of deliberative democracy. Parliamentary debates are far from what any thinking person should think of as a good or useful debate: it does not adequately allow for rebuttal of factual points made, simply a queue of people lodging their grievances. The time limits imposed on debates prevent Parliament from properly scrutinising proposed amendments.

The problem that I currently have is that the bodies that best represent the deliberative model of democracy in Britain are precisely those that aren’t democratically elected: specifically, the House of Lords and the Supreme Court. And that’s depressing too: the House of Lords is an extremely flawed institution—the political appointment process (which can be helped along with money), for a start—and the Supreme Court can’t exactly decide matters of public importance beyond those where interpretation of the law is concerned.

I have no great solutions to offer, just a feeling of disappointment and melancholy: I can’t see any way of fixing the process. Our voting system is fucked. Our Parliament is both unrepresentative and fails to be a suitable deliberative body. (And don’t get me started on how crap the media is at the same job.) I can only offer an ice-cold bath of cynicism: this system sucks, and there’s no real way to reform it. Our political system shall remain mired in mediocrity and stupidity for the foreseeable future. And it probably won’t change: even the most mild attempts at reforming, say, the voting system (the AV referendum) or the House of Lords have fallen flat on their arse, even though the failure to create a properly deliberative political system is precisely why we can’t solve the big problems.

There’s now a Football Hack Day on April 18th in London. Not my cup of tea but interesting to see the many different directions the hack day concept is going.

And over in Brussels and in Atlanta on 24–26 April, there’s Hack Epilepsy, a hack day for improving the lives of people with epilepsy.

Conference on hypertext asks for submissions in PDF only

HyperText 2015 (bold mine):

The ACM Conference on Hypertext and Social Media (HT) is a premium venue for high quality peer-reviewed research on theory, systems and applications for hypertext and social media. It is concerned with all aspects of modern hypertext research, including social media, adaptation and personalisation, user modeling, linked data and semantic web, dynamic and computed hypertext, and its application in digital humanities.

HT2015 will focus on the role of hypertext and hyperlink theory on the web and beyond, as a foundation for approaches and practices in the wider community.

Submission Instructions for HyperText 2015:

All submissions should be formatted according to the official ACM SIG proceedings template and submitted in PDF format

So much lack of self-awareness.

I support the right of Indiana’s Christian bakers to exercise their religious freedom: if they decide they do not wish to support inter-racial marriage by baking a cake for a mixed race couple, that should be their right.

Funnily enough, when you change the scenario from same-sex couple to mixed-race couple, it seems utterly horrible. But defenders of “religious freedom” need to take the rough with the smooth.

OH: “my hair dresser has four Gay Best Friends!”

We are Pokémon cards, gotta catch ‘em all.

Police incident at Paddington, London: the HSBC on Praed Street has police tape around it and there are multiple officers on scene. The doors to the bank are closed with staff shut inside. A security van is parked outside—a robbery perhaps?

Sorry for low quality image.

This press release from the Department for Education is broadly good, although one of the people quoted in it uses the rather odd phrase “the copyright industry”. I thought they were supposed to be creative industries, but the mask is slipping—they are copyright industries. This is why they won’t ever agree to a renegotiation of the terms of copyright to rebalance it in favour of the public domain. When you have a copyright industry, they only want to see copyright grow. Don’t be under any illusions to the contrary.

The lift replacement delays at Covent Garden station finally make the Tube station as insufferably shit and hellish as Covent Garden itself. Avoid.

(As if one needs any more reasons to avoid Covent Garden.)