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

Depressing reminder that homophobia is still a thing in London. What’s that? Gay people in the metropolitan centre of a country with the best LGBT rights record in Europe still run the risk of violence and abuse, even in bloody Soho and Vauxhall.

I’d like to say I’m shocked or surprised, but I’m not. Not even in the slightest bit. Things are better, but they aren’t good enough. Perhaps it’s time we should do like the New Yorkers do and take self-defence classes.

Don't hold your breath for politicians to start being sane on drugs

This week saw the publication of a new study by the Home Office showing that punitive drug enforcement measures do not work. This follows many years of similar studies which have shown that drug prohibition causes far more harm than the drugs they are trying to protect people from.

The average person has long known that the harm done by drugs like cannabis and ecstasy are far, far lower than is made out by politicians. The drug war rhetoric has failed to convince fair-minded and reasonable people. Instead, we have entered a self-referential PR bubble where the actual harms of the policy are ignored in favour of debates about “what signal is sent” by a discussion of legislative reform on drugs policy. Politicians must “crack down” and “show strength” against the evil scourge of drugs, even if such policies do not serve the interests of drug addicts who need help, and make the law seem completely ridiculous in the minds of both non-addicted/non-pathological recreational drug users, and people who don’t use illegal drugs and look at the whole situation from a perspective of harm reduction and civil liberties.

The drug laws must change. Not because I have a hankering to go and try every drug on the market: I use caffeine and I use alcohol and I don’t seem to have much desire to try anything else. The big lies that politicians tell about drugs brings the moral authority of the law and the process used to make the law into question. The law should be a vehicle for justice and fairness, and to do that, it needs to be based on truth and reasonableness. It isn’t. The removal of Professor David Nutt from his position on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs for pointing out the inconsistencies and madnesses of our current drugs policy demonstrates this more than adequately.

Colorado and Washington State in the USA both provide a clear and reasonable model for how societies can switch from prohibitionism to a tax-and-regulate model for marijuana enjoyed recreationally. Portugal’s switch from treating drug addiction as a criminal justice matter and instead approaching it as a public health matter is far more humane for those who are addicted to hard drugs and wish to stop. Some mixture of both of these—legalisation for softer drugs, and a softening of the criminalisation of hard drugs to help addicts—combined with evidence-based harm reduction efforts (needle exchange, for instance) is the sane, reasonable and humane way forward.

And that is exactly why it won’t be pursued by any major political party. The truly saddening thing about drugs policy is that it represents a microcosm of all thats is broken about contemporary politics: the domination of electoral politics by the elderly and bigoted, the dominance of ‘law and order’/’strength’ rhetoric over rational humanity, the constant need for experts to be “on-message” rather than honest, and the depressing role of tabloid newspaper scaremongering. Politicians ought to be worried about what “signals” they are sending by not formulating and implementing a sane, modern and rational drugs policy—if they can’t get this right, the continued exodus of reasonable people from any kind of involvement in politics will continue.

Elton John seems to think that Pope Francis is Tinker Bell too. The Church was on the edge of saying that we had “gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community”. Then they decided that we didn’t.1

Pope Francis is an amazing PR spin machine (in fact, the Vatican has external PR consultants), but his actions are so discordant with the progressive mood music. It is quite sad that Elton John can’t see through the spin and see that Francis doesn’t represent meaningful progressive change at all.

  1. Because fuck Michelangelo and his fucking Sistine Chapel—and fuck John Henry Newman too. Neither of those two men gave any “gifts” to the ungrateful Church.

I don’t really do Halloween. Humanity operating normally scares me more than the scariest horror movie.

Tim Cook is the first openly gay CEO of a Fortune 500 company. But apparently, this isn’t news and it isn’t important. I mean, except it might change attitudes to LGBT people in business, it might solidify corporate policies on equality and inclusion (which help all minorities). But none of that matters because straight people keep saying it doesn’t matter and shouldn’t be news.

Good on Tim Cook for coming out publicly.

People who have never had to come out or face homophobic bigotry and harassment will at this point be saying “why is this even necessary?” because they are too blithely unaware of history to know why it is necessary. For a whole lot of young gay people interested in technology and wanting to work in the tech industry (etc.), this is something that will help. I don’t just think this, I know this from direct experience.

If your ethical thinking doesn’t start from the horrific sight of tens of thousands of dead bodies, you aren’t doing ethical theory, you are engaging in mental masturbation and/or theology.

A gentle ethical defence of doing nothing

I’m going to tell you about an amazing new alternative therapy that you should consider. It’s called procrasteopathy, and its treatment modality is exactly what the name suggests: procrastination. For whatever condition you believe you have, the treatment is simply to find something else to be getting on with. Licensed procrasteopaths work with patients to find exactly what sort of procrastination will fit best with their lifestyles. Unlike boring, reductive Western medicine, practiced by boring, reductive colonialists, procrasteopaths target their treatment specifically to you as a whole person. They are treating the whole you, not just your disease.

It is for this reason that procrasteopathy is so hard to test: because each treatment is customised based on a person’s life—work, relationships, diet, values, education, family, attitude, mood, clothing choices, most recently seen movies, mobile phone tariff, preferred pizza toppings—it is very hard to test procrasteopathy in a clinical trial setting. Cold-hearted skeptics like to suggest that as with homeopathy procrasteopathy is a form of placebo, and thus indistinguishable from the placebo control group used in a clinical trial. But this only shows that they are indeed shit-breathing smug wankstains of no significance, a pox on our intellectual community, and they like to eat babies at dawn.

Furthermore, skeptics and boringly orthodox pharmacologists and medics are likely to point out that use and advocacy of procrasteopathy is unethical. There are a great many diseases, they say, where non-treatment causes massively negative effects to both the patient and—in the case of infectious conditions—risks the lives of other people.

If one is limited to a boringly narrow, scientistic and epistemologically fundamentalist view of medical practice, the non-treatment of serious clinical conditions may seem irresponsible and possibly even depraved, but this misses important ethical benefits of procrasteopathy, such as:

  1. Holism. Procrasteopathy does not attempt to use narrow categories of biological science to treat patients. It approaches patients as whole units, preferring to treat the whole person rather than simply the symptoms. In fact, the symptoms are thought of as a positive and important part of the patient, and something to be embraced rather than attacked.
  2. Non-intrusiveness. While biological medicine seems to be improving, there are still many drugs which cause terrible side effects. Procrasteopathy comes with no side effects, except the warm feeling of not doing anything.
  3. Procrasteopathy respects patient’s wishes. If a patient says that the procrastination prescribed for them is not something they enjoy, the procrasteopath is strongly encouraged to reformulate their treatment plan to include a different mode of procrastination better suited to their life and values.
  4. Professionalism. Procrasteopathy is attempting to become professionalised, with a Society of Procrastopaths being set up to provide professional training and regulation, and we intend to register with the Complementary & Natural Healthcare Council.

Now, these individual factors on their own may seem trivial compared to the suffering and death that would be brought about by widespread use of procrasteopathy to treat serious medical conditions. The memories of the thousands of children dying from easily preventable diseases that lurks just a few decades ago before the advent of widespread infant vaccination may seem nightmarish; or more recently, the disastrous deaths of tens of thousands of AIDS patients before the availability of highly active anti-retroviral therapies may crush what little spirit of hope you have left. But a fair-minded observer must weigh up such woeful clinical outcomes with the positive ethical benefits of procrasteopathy.

If you find this kind of reasoning compelling, I strongly recommend a paper published by Levy et al. in the Journal of Bioethical Inquiry named A Gentle Ethical Defence of Homeopathy (PDF preprint). I’m sure the philosophically-informed reader will find the reasoning that Levy et al. present to demonstrate the ethical acceptability of homeopathy on utilitarian grounds to be as compelling a defence when applied to procrasteopathy.

Fitbit are launching new wearables. They are all watch/band form, and they are obviously being influenced by the current trend for smart watches. That said, $249 at the top end is a lot of money for a wearable tracker type device and probably won’t appeal to all but the most fitness obsessed users.

America really needs a separation of universities and big-money athletics programmes or this kind of shit will keep happening. Also, I’d suggest that American football’s well-known ability to cause both memory loss and chronic traumatic encephalopathy is incompatible with the academic mission of any university worthy of the name.

And my sport-loving friends will say: “athletic scholarships help poor kids go to college!” Sure. The only cost is the academic credibility of the institutions and the neurological and psychological well-being of the students in later life. Bargain really.

Remember, fellow Londoners, we live in a progressive city and homophobia is a forgotten relic of yester-year. Oh wait

Terry Sanderson from the National Secular Society has a pretty good rant about the fawning media coverages given to the Catholic church over their family summit. I’m glad that at least secular campaigners are calling out the PR puffery that is modern Catholicism.

Apparently, we should be over the moon that a bunch of old men in wizard robes have decided that gay people are actually human beings—we have “gifts and qualities” to offer. Wow. Way to go out on a limb there, Comrade Bergoglio. Truly you are revolutionary. I mean, sure, we’re still “intrinsically morally disordered”, but you know, in a nice friendly, happy way. What patronising horseshit, and what a colossal bunch of tossers covering this story. Any headline about it that isn’t a variation on the theme “Pope says a few nice words, doesn’t make any substantive changes” is just Vatican spin.

I couldn’t give a hoot what the Pope thinks about my relationships or my sexuality. I do care quite a bit about how the meddling old bigots in robes are going around trying to have their divinely inspired discrimination against gay people codified into the law and, as Sanderson says, how they have been the opponents of every single piece of legal reform that has made being gay tolerable. The only morally honest response I can think of to anything the Catholic Church say on matters of human sexuality is telling them to go and swivel on a power drill. What it lacks in moral nuance it makes up for in sincerity.

Yosemite notes

I rather hastily upgraded to Yosemite this morning. Just a few quick notes.

Upgrade was slow but mostly worked. Had to reinstall Java and command line tools but everything still worked afterwards. That was fairly painless.

The new UI isn’t totally awful. The cmd-tab cycler isn’t quite clear enough for my liking but everything else seems pretty nice.

Being able to bulk rename without having to open up the terminal and write unix-fu is nice.

Continuity and Handoff are exciting. It’s how I’ve been wishing computers could operate since forever. Being able to send SMS from my Mac is nice, although I wish WhatsApp and, err, certain other messaging apps were supported too. Being able to make phone calls and send texts from my Mac using my iPhone is old news though: I was doing that with my Sony Ericsson W890i and BluePhoneElite. But it’s nice that I can do it again, and with an Apple layer of gloss this time.

The fact I can now write scripts in JavaScript rather than AppleScript means I might actually write them. Don’t get me wrong, I hate JavaScript, but I hate it a lot less than I hate AppleScript. I’ve used the Python and Ruby OSA bridges in the past, but they were always a bit hacky. Having JavaScript baked in by Apple is pretty nifty.

On a similarly geeky note, Swift looks like a nice alternative to Objective-C (or C/C++). Although I couldn’t get the REPL to quite work right, I am able to execute Swift scripts using /usr/bin/swift.

What do Lord Freud’s comments about disabled people not being worth the minimum wage and Nigel Farage saying that HIV positive people are lesser “quality” have in common?

They both signify an increasingly nasty, judgmental political reality; a politics freed from the tiresome burden of having to treat people as having some kind of worth in and of themselves and a new era of political hacks able to play with people’s basest fears and hatreds. In Farage’s mind, good people don’t have HIV, only bad people. One condom slip, one drunken mistake, one sexual assault, one workplace accident in a medical laboratory and all the other achievements in a person’s life—personal and professional—are quickly undone. If we can only rid the dole queues and immigration processes of the bad people, then Britain can be great again.

This is very curious. There are disabled people who are born as such, and there are disabled people who become disabled through an accident or event in their life. With the rare exception of mother-to-baby infection, HIV+ people were at some point HIV-.

In the dark subconscious of Lord Freud’s mind, or Nigel Farage’s mind, some property must change about the person to take them from being worth the minimum wage to not being worth the minimum wage, or to turn them from a quality person into, well, a quality-free person, presumably. It would be interesting for either of them to tell us what it is about either disability or HIV infection changes this moral property. Is it simply being disabled or being HIV positive that changes the person’s status, or is there a knock-on effect—that is, is the inferential journey direct or is it indirect? I’d rather like to know, although I predict I’ll be horrified by the result if it were given truthfully.

These telling comments reveal a new political reality of callous and macabre Hobbesian opportunism where the loathsome and vile are lauded as honest speakers of common sense. Truly revolting stuff.

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A skeptical campaigner has been threatened by self-proclaimed psychic Sally Morgan’s husband. A volley of threats of murder, lawsuits and a nice big dose of homophobia too. That seems an appropriate response to someone handing out a leaflet.

On Sally Morgan’s Facebook, there’s fawning comments about how he was “only doing what a loving husband would do”. Shouting homophobic abuse and threatening to have some killed: that’s true love right there.