Wednesday, 27 February 2013

#PHPness - the real issue

So says those that are comfortable in the status quo, and don't need to see their environment, their industry, change. Perhaps I'm being unfair, perhaps it is just that those (and there are plenty more), like Jarrod here, feel that PHP developers are above such pervasive parasitic behaviours that culminate in cultural divide.

It seems that this last couple of days a bit of a hoo-ha has been stirred up by the "75% women" staffed Web & PHP magazine, and their choice at drumming up views for their publication (congratulations on a job well done, I imagine). Sorry if I do "name names" here, by the way, it just makes it a whole lot easier for people to follow what's happened than making them do all the searching for themselves. I'm only aware of this now because perennial sexism-sniffer-outer, Aral Balkan, was making a bit of a fuss of it all this evening (see the earlier link).

Unfortunately the responses since have focused largely on the largely irrelevant and anecdotal .

Some may see the defense by Web & PHP magazine's staffers as its own form of feminism, others as Uncle Tom syndrome. Either way, it was off the mark as it took one criticism ("Your schtick is too male orientated") and decided to argue against it, as others so defensively did on Twitter it would seem, as some form of censorship alone. I don't doubt that some were thinking that, that perhaps it shouldn't have gone ahead, but is that really the only answer? Of course not. It's also highly curious to me to see the response to "we shouldn't pretend women are wallflowers" is to say "women should get used to 21st century male orientated sexual banter". Aren't they essentially the same limiting action, but in different directions?

Similarly the article makes the logical misstep of assuming because people involved are perfectly non-sexist and decent human beings, that this somehow makes it the problem of those that may feel barriers to their involvement if they don't feel comfortable. Yet the authors had the audacity, or perhaps just lack of an irony detector, to go on a diatribe about "slut shaming".

If there is one thing that happens every time this subject comes up it is the belittlement of the views of the minority of people that don't feel that their own industry (or the industry they would professionally like to be a part of) isn't a "safe space" for them. Perhaps it's not intentional, but clumsily these irrelevancies of how nice, decent, female or well meaning people are while they are creating divisive atmosphere, only say one thing... if you're too far from what we consider normal, we don't really care if you want to join the party or not. It's so very cliquey. Given the tone of the humour, it's 6th-form common-room standards of behaviour.

This last month has seen a landmark victory for civil rights in the UK, with same sex couples getting a vital step closer to being legally recognised as spouses if they go through a legal union of marriage. Yet there were many that claimed that they didn't need marriage, that they had something *like* marriage, surely that's enough? The attitude was very "learn to live with it". Internationally the issue has even seen some homosexual people themselves standing up shoulder to shoulder with the type of people that tried to deny them the right to an equal age of consent.

Another example of the kind of issue we're facing is university sports initiations. You may have seen some stuff on the news in the past, there have been incidents where people have died because of them. Yet despite this those who rely on them to weed out the weak of stomach and of resolve, would very passionately demand that no-one take away their right to run initiations as they wish. The result? People who cared about the sport, wanted to take it on from college, but didn't want to drink a pint of urine then be humiliated around town for a night, lost out.

The people who ran the initiations didn't lose out, those who joined in didn't lose out, only those that decided that their own sense of self-worth meant this avenue was closed to them. It was a pleasure to work with those during my time at UWESU who worked tirelessly to engage with the sport clubs to run initiations in a manner befitting of a safe-space organisation, not removing all elements of "risque"-ness or hierarchies and power structures...but to make it so that no-one who was of a "team sport is awesome" mentality would feel reasonably put off by the initiations.

This industry, and I mean our broad industry, not just in PHP, not just front-end developers, nor designers...but web and technology workers all over, needs to get past its own "same sex marriage" moment and embrace what the world needs it to be. Conferences, especially, are our "initiations" for those who want to enter the community as well as the profession, and everyone has the right to feel comfortable entering that arena.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Sending your kids to private school

So the Tory candidate for the By-Election at Eastleigh, Maria Hutchings, has gone and said state schools aren't good enough for her children. Queue people who are clearly a little too 2d on issues of liberalism rushing to her defense.

"Free choice!" they cry! "Don't judge people wanting the best for their children" they implore.

Bullshit. Let's not get in to some stupid, hypocritical liberalism. If these people have free choice to choose what is best for their family, we also have a free choice to criticise.

Taking it at it's core level when MPs and ministers choose to put their kids in to a private school they are admitting the failure of their own institution. If the state cannot provide enough of a standard that willingly spending thousands and thousands of pounds on education in a private sphere is a more acceptable option, then the state must not be performing well. By proxy, the state education system becomes one that is good enough for the poor, but not for the rich.

And this is the core problem, it's not *actually* about education levels, it's about class and it's about perceptions of quality (rather than actual quality) of being educated.

I put a metaphor forward... if I was building one brand of car, but chose to buy a different brand, doesn't that send the wrong message out about my car? We see this over and over, celebrities that endorse one type of product while using another (Alicia Keys, Blackberry vs Apple, for example). We see through this behaviour easily, we know the difference between being paid to give lip service to one idea while personally believing something different. Quite rightly we question the integrity of these people in the task or job they've been paid for.

A friend said, quite rightly, that you might make (as CEO of a company perhaps) that brand (say, Vauxhall) but want to buy a "better" one (like a Jaguar). Now, is that because the Jag is truly a better car? Arguably there are better quality components, subjectively better design....the reality is that it is better more through status than it is through more relevant measurables such as reliability and efficiency.

Yet the feeling is I should buy the Jag, this is because I want to fit in with my peers, and act appropriately to my job title and income. Is this not what it happening with private education? People that have got themselves significant incomes, wealth too perhaps, that think that they must put their kids in to private education for the right outcome, yet not necessarily anything to do with the outcome of real learning...that if they don't spend the thousands that they are failing as a parent? Maybe it's more active a decision...they want their kids to get the best job, and they know (through rubbing shoulders) that an Eton education is going to grease the wheels a whole lot more.

Yet this greasing of the wheels only happens because of an inflated credibility given to the private schools through association along side their results. "Who you know, not what you know" is not referring to your going to a private school because that school is good...but because it proves that you are "the right people", my kind of people, my class.

This is why politicians, when facing this choice, should make the choice to go for a state education rather than private. By doing so they are making active steps to destroy the structures of nepotism that suck the life out of aspirations of those from "lower" backgrounds than those that don't have to think twice about throwing extra money at an education institution. By doing so they are resisting the greedy urge to give their kids an unfair leg up the ladder and the passing along that this kind of selfish attitude is ok in a civilised society.

And you know...if they have an issue with the provision of their local school, especially in the environment we find ourselves in now with how schooling priorities and strategies are formed, and don't feel that from their position as a national politician (with a significant and better than many financial situation) that they can influence that individual school for their individual kids at an individual level...I wonder what exactly is the point of them having a job as an advocate and representive of the people in the first place.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

"Responsive design"

I have just been asked for my view on responsive design, and whether it's the appropriate term to be using in discussions with clients. We are, amusingly yet unsurprisingly, a profession that spends a lot of time on definitions, perhaps too long...but the reality is that there are people with little technical knowledge but a lot of wallet, and they need to know if their boxes are being ticked. Encompassing definitions both help and hinder this.

Take "Responsive Design". Like "HTML5" which actually refers to modern web technologies, encompassing (but not limited to) javascript and CSS3 techniques, "Responsive Design" is not something we talk about in it's literal meaning, but its grouping of a set of techniques and ideals to deliver the right content in the right environment at the right time. Essentially, we usually use the term when talking about a service we are offering as part of a build, not as a technique. You can argue until the cows go home about whether someone's work involves "responsive design" or if it's just adaptive, or neither(!), and maybe you'll feel clever for a little while at nailing the specifics, but it is ultimately a futile exercise.

The problems with these definitions come when we're trying to sell this "service" to others, what they expect from it, and what we think they want when they ask for it. The customer doesn't care about what set of work practices you've used, and what you choose to call them, they only care that their product/system works.

Getting confused

Maybe you have heard this recently...

I want our new site to be responsive, can you use responsive design?

Or perhaps the client is taking your lead instead...

We are going to create a new site for you, and use the latest responsive design techniques

Leaving it like this is fraught with danger. How much do they really know about the techniques involved? Are they aware that "responsive design" as a service we are selling could be more than just making the text size go bigger, and the width go smaller, when you view the page on a mobile? When they ask for "responsive design" as a service, are we going to be quick to assume that they only want this and not a wider strategy for delivering their content on multiple devices in the best way for the customer?

The key to avoiding this is, obviously, to not simply rest on perceived definitions. Even if you think your definition is right, it doesn't mean others have the same views.

What does a "responsive design" service encompass?

It's actually made up of 4 distinct areas of practice which I would simply call good system design.

  1. Content strategy design
  2. Contextual design
  3. Accessibile design
  4. Responsive design

Content Strategy Design

For me the first thing that allows your system to be responsive is your content strategy. When you're putting something on your system, are you aware of it's limitations in different environments and different devices? Can it easily be taken to be used in a text message if appropriate as it can be to be put on a website for large desktop users?

Take the humble image. Most people will just upload a single image to put on a page. However is this image ready for use in high resolution devices? What about on pages where there is an abundance of space due to large window sizes? How is the meta data for that image stored so that it can be used in a text message if needs be?

Then there is the (text/html) content itself. While I would advocate simply having short and sweet content for each area of the system you're populating, there may be additional supplementary content that can enhance the current view. Without the right information architecture, and the right mentality behind adding content in a reusable manner, you may well find that any of your attempts at layout alteration, or alternate designs for alternate devices, will just be impossible.

For example: your standard Wordpress site allows users to dump their content in one big text box. It tends to do rather well in compartmentalizing some other can upload a "thumbnail" or featured image, and you can associate custom content in a "key = value" way, but the default and prominent way of adding information is to use the big area for it all. This leads to pages that are unresponsive to changes in the size of the browser. Wordpress is a blunt instrument in the world of content management, though it is a model followed and preceded by many, but it highlights that sometimes we constrain our ability to be "responsive" the moment we choose our delivery system.

If we're being responsive we need to have the practices in place to use our content, and link our content together, in dynamic ways.

Contextual Design

You may have hit a website that looks very different on your phone, with a big link saying "view our main site" underneath. When this is done properly, it is contextual design in action, at it's simplest. While the methods of getting there are a subject of debate (browser sniffing, OMG!), the idea that what you will want to see in one context is different from another is important in your system being "responsive".

Look at an app like TripAdvisor, versus their website. The system is tailored around finding and making reviews, and at first glance the app isn't too different. However look a bit closer and you'll see that on the desktop website tripadvisor has a feeling of a system ready to help you plan a trip. It has prominent options to book flights, hotels, etc. It also lists everything in order of just how well others have rated it.

The app takes a different approach, still you look for reviews but the trip planning takes a back seat. Your current location is the default search choice, and everything is ranked by how far away it is from you now. Go in to details about a specific place and a prominent call to action is a tool to literally point you in the direction of the location and tell you how far you are away.

TripAdvisor have recognised that while everything is driven off of the same content, what content is relevant, and how you interact with the content depends on your situation, or context. Part of being "responsive" is understanding when simply amending the layout isn't enough, and that a different experience has to be offered. This doesn't mean abandoning the same functionality, just realigning priorities.

If we're being responsive, then we have to react to the environment that we know, or can reasonably assume, people reside in at the time they access the system.

Accessibile Design

Sometimes overlooked, but accessibility design may be one of the most important and ethical aspects of our design that we have to consider when thinking "responsively". Of course this means ensuring your system is navigable by those with sight issues, but it also means catering for those that have problem with their motor skills, or have cognitive disabilities.

There is, however, another area of accessibility...and that is catering for the disability of technological stagnation. Perhaps it could be described as legacy design, it is the practice of "progressive enhancement" that ensures that even those stuck on old computers, with old browsers, are able to get to the core experience or understanding of your system.

If we're being responsive, then we have to be responsive to the physical, mental and technological situation people are faced with.

Responsive Design

Finally there is the aspect that most will be familiar with, the actual layout on the page. Don't fight about whether it's "adaptive" or "responsive", these are just words. The only thing that matters is that your page works, regardless of what the size of the browser is, regardless of the resolution of the screen. If someone wants to do this by designing "steps" of layouts then that is ok, if someone wants to do it all be being fluid, that's also ok. The main thing is that the experience is going to be nice for the customer to use.

If this means hiding content that is useful on a desktop sized site, do it, the experience is key...just remember that load times and resource usage are just as important factors in someone's experience of your system as how it looks.

If we're being responsive, then the way the system looks has to be great in a way that never suggests "I should be viewing this on a different device/in a different browser size".

Edit: I've been asked a few times on Twitter about this, I would generally tend towards a fluid design thanks to the sheer number of resolutions and screen widths that can create a disjointed experience, or present wasted space. However within this fluid design you invariably need to use adaptive techniques to move elements around, hide elements, remove your grid structure, etc. This is why I say they are both part of the same parcel.

The caveats

Development is time and money, at the end of the day, and it's down to you to work out what is worth that time and money, and what isn't. If you know that you're only designing an iPhone app then considering the technological limitations of IE7 doesn't really factor. If you know that your site is one that doesn't have any IE6 users then feel free to severely limit the time you spend making it look perfect.

It's this reason why you need to be so careful with understanding what your client means when they bring the subject up, or that they understand what you mean when you bring it up. The difference in the length of time it can take to complete a project between the activity of simply adding some media queries in to a website template, and fully considering the design using all the elements above, is huge.

Stay flexible

I would suggest you work as close as possible to fulfill the above practices, whatever you want to call them yourself, the result will be a system that is responsive to future demands too. You may think that right now your system is constrained by certain facts, but facts can change...and boy can they change fast! Your iPhone only app can suddenly turn in to a web app as the client gets new information from their marketing teams, your user base can change away from the demographics that you tested your UX plans against (you did do some UX design too, right?)

If your system is inflexible to future change, if it isn't scalable, then you are creating a world of hurt for either yourself or your client at some point in the future. Follow good responsive design practices and you'll find that revisions to your system will be a breeze; making changes will become an act of bolting on new functionality, or simple tweaks to a template, instead of having to gut the system and start again!

This is what your client needs to understand when you start talking about responsive design, that you want to make a system that is responsive to variety in the marketplace now, to diversity of customers, and responsive to changes therein in the (near) future too.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

On IDS's Sun outburst...

Iain Duncan Smith has lashed out at those that helped strike a blow against the government workfare systems yesterday, in the Sun

LET me be very clear — our back to work schemes are successful

No they're not, at least not the ones that people have a problem with. This is the problem with our government talking about "back to work schemes", no one has a problem with paid for training, on the job training, apprenticeships. It is the compulsory and pseudo-compulsory act of "mandatory work activity" and it's siblings that are the problem, and they aren't working.

In fact the very existence of these schemes that purely provide us, the "hard working tax payer" (see below), the means to pay for someone to work for a multi-million pound national or international company without that organisation having to pay even a fraction of what they would otherwise, may well be entrenching a cycle of poverty in to our society that is impossible to get out from.

And a gentle reminder that if everything is so successful, we need to know why unemployment isn't even going down, really.

and are not slave labour.

Legally, no they're also not. There is, however, a perfect quote for this...

"There is always a choice."
"You mean I could choose certain death?"
"A choice nevertheless, or perhaps an alternative. You see I believe in freedom. Not many people do, although they will of course protest otherwise. And no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences. Indeed, it is the freedom upon which all the other are based."
Lord Vetinari and Moist, in "Going Postal" by Terry Pratchett

The only technicality by which compulsory (or perceived compulsory, as was the case in court) work has to be undertaken, in order to retain benefit payments, doesn't classify as "Slavery" is that no-one is actually bound to legally or otherwise to that duty. They do, if they so wish, have the choice to simply have no money.

This is a choice that means they lose their home almost certainly, won't be able to buy food, or pay bills...not unless they have some friend, relative or local foodbank willing to give them hand outs.

So, are people being forced to do this work? No. Do they really have any other choice? No.

Nobody works for free on these placements because the Government continues to pay their benefits. So nobody is working for nothing, are they?

Dangerous words here from IDS. Why? If he deems that these people are working (and there is a contract there, so note this is very close to the line) then there is a bit of legislation that should apply to them. You cannot act like these people are workers in one breath, but then deny them the rights that we are calling for...a fair wage for a day's work.

I believe IDS has let his guard slip here, this comment/attitude may be useful for those campaigning against workfare going forward.

I disagree with the part of the ruling that found against our regulations and we will appeal against that

That is his right, to spend our money on feckless legal challenges rather than just get on with the job, of course.

but crucially the court did not find that anyone’s human rights have been breached because we asked them to do a work placement in return for Jobseeker’s Allowance.

See above.

The court said our technical regulations should be clearer and we have rectified that.'re not appealing them then? Or you're appealing them even though you have found a way that you can comply with the ruling, which kind of proves the ruling's point? Oh IDS...

People who are fit to work should no longer expect to receive benefits if they do not do everything they can to get a job.

Which is weird, because there are people "doing everything they can" to get a job, like those that were in court fighting their sanctions, but the system doesn't recognise that they are doing this. It also doesn't recognise that regardless of how much those people are trying to get a job, but not finding one because there are not enough jobs to go around they will be forced in to less-than-minmum-wage labour after a set period of time.

I can kind of understand, though completely disagree still, with the idea that if you objectively find someone is simply not trying to find a job that you mandate them to take work experience... forcing people to take work after 9 months simply because they've been unemployed that long in an almost-triple-dip recession? That's not about expectations around benefits and all about a government that wishes to get people off of the unemployment statistics.

To compare work experience to “slave labour” is hugely insulting to people living in oppression around the world

A strange statement, because while no-one is truly equating the rather technical definition of being in slavery with the slave trade of the past, and horrific slavery that still exists, IDS seems to think it is ok to use these faceless victims as a reason to try to silence critics of the lack of ethics in his policies.

I honestly feel this is a subject that has so many parallels (though is of a completely different and less significant scale) to the perception of the slave trade in the past, what we are existing in now is a period where some people believe this exploitation of people's situation is ok, and others believe it is not. In the past those who believed in ethical behaviour won out and slavery was abolished and the right to be free from slavery is one of our core human rights.

It is that kind of belief in being above the lowest form of human behaviour that we need to rekindle now.

and sneers at hard-working taxpayers who pay for benefits.

Ah, the old "hard-working" line! Love this one. If you earn lots of money you are a "hard worker", if you can only get a job because someone cuts the hours of an existing employee...or worse still cuts jobs only to restaff them with those on welfare-to-work schemes, then you are a "shirker". How on earth do you try and quantify how "hard" someone sitting in an office waiting for calls to come in is working compared to someone that is about to lose their job as a cleaner only for it to be reinstated as a "mandatory work activity placement" months later?

IDS doesn't have anything of worth or factual value to add here, just rhetoric that aims to drive a wedge between those who have been fortunate and entrepreneurial, and those who are less fortunate. IDS, quite frankly, doesn't care enough about people to realise what utter horseshit he is spewing when he defends these kinds of schemes.

I hope we won't have to wait too long before compassion sets in and we understand what we are doing to people, all in the search to have a dubious statistical "win" to beat the opposition with at Prime Ministers Questions.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

About Teather's "explanation" of voting against equality

I'm quite frankly annoyed by the duplicity of the argument that Sarah Teather, supposedly a liberal, has given for voting against the same-sex marriage bill tonight. It's not her alone that is using this lazy and factually incorrect argument to protect future generations of those that share her faith from having to deal with a changing world, but she's made a timely intervention that proves easy to fisk...

This evening I voted against the second reading of the same-sex marriage bill. It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever taken. As a life-long liberal and a committed Catholic I spent many months reflecting on this issue in the lead up to the vote. I wanted to explain to people why I took this step.

Unfortunately, this will not be a very good explanation...

I have previously taken a very public stance in support of gay equality in a whole range of areas, including supporting civil partnerships legislation in 2004 (which I was very proud to do), voting for all stages of equality legislation passed in the last two parliaments, working with schools to address homophobia and lobbying the Home Office for fairer treatment of gay people seeking asylum from countries where they fear persecution. I feel strongly about these issues and have devoted considerable time to campaigning on such matters over the last ten years.

Some of by best friends are gay, hmm?

As will become apparent through this, Teather is the same kind of gay activist as most right wingers are charitable to the poor. They might give to organisations trying to save lives in war torn countries, but if any of those people try to claim asylum here then they can fuck right off. Teather sees a threat to her faith; she's happy to see gay people free from persecution...they just can't be allowed to join her club. That would be too much.

This is made all the more ridiculous by the fact that nothing about voting yes would change how much gay people are ostracised from her club anyway.

However, changing the definition of marriage for me raises other more complex issues.

I just want to say that the definition of marriage changes in no way to alter how marriage exists for those already married or wishing to get married. All it does is "extend the franchise", so how exactly this is a "complex" issue is beyond me. Complex if you are superimposing your own beliefs in to something that is actually nothing to do with your beliefs, perhaps.

I believe that the link between family life and marriage is important.

And so starts pretty much every "I'm trying to be liberal" argument, and each time basically points a gun at their own feet.

We know that permanent stable loving relationships between parents are very important for children.

Alright...I think we can all see where this is going...

Such relationships make it much easier to offer the kind of consistent loving parenting that enables children to grow into healthy happy adults able to play their part in society. I recognise that this kind of stability can exist outside of marriage, but the act of giving and receiving vows in front of others and making a commitment for life is an aid to stability.

This is, at best, complete nonsense. If marriage in itself was an aid to stability (though what Teather is talking about here is a wedding, not marriage, which does not in itself have to be religious...nor does it even have to be a marriage) then there wouldn't be an increase in the rate of divorce as time has gone on. As more people get married, less people should get divorced, not vice versa.

It is precisely the reason that marriage has formed the basis of family life for thousands of years, and is the reason that the state has historically tried to encourage it.

Bollocks. Marriage (in the way Teather talks about it) was first intervened in by the state in 1753, and this was not for "family" reasons. The main reason was to protect the revenue stream that marriages provided, and protect the underaged from being effectively traded in to marriage, by culling "clandestine marriages". It did nothing to promote the stability of families for Quakers or Jews because they weren't part of the act.

in 1836, over 80 years later, this was amended. To promote family life? No, to recognise diversity of religion...or more specifically to protect non-Anglicans from having no legal recourse against spouses that simply left them. Strengthening families? Only through strengthening the barriers to get out of them, it would seem. This is also when the arguments for equality started to get opposed by bigots that sought to put their own faith ahead of the rights of others.

"Not solemnized by the church of England, may be celebrated without entering into a consecrated building, may be contracted by anybody, and will be equally valid, whether it takes place in the house of God, or in the house of a registering clerk, one of the lowest functionaries of the state. The parties may take one another for better and for worse, without calling God to witness their plighted troth" - Henry Phillpotts, Bishop of Exeter.

Oh dear me, these philistines that believe their commitment to marriage, through other religious institutions or otherwise, is as great and good as the holy (Anglican) Catholic version!

Each episode in the way that the state "promotes" family life through marriage has simply been to either extend the franchise or remove the barriers, be it through allowing marriages that will be recognised by British Law in foreign countries, or increasing the type of premises that can be used, etc. etc.

Long (but not as long as 1000s of years) story short...the way the state has involved itself has not been to encourage family life, not in any explicit sense. To encourage marriages to take place under the legal framework of the UK rather than outside that framework...sure.

If we want to go back 1000s of years, as a "state", to the recognised beginning of a state run enterprise in marriage, then that would of course be Henry VIII and his various moves to provide himself the ability to get "divorced" without the religious baggage. Indeed at this stage he didn't take control out of any love of family. Sure, he wanted a son, but he had two girls before that. The state, the church and the king cared little for "family stability" with regards to his daughters, changing the fundamental constitution of the country to rid himself of his first child's mother, and eventually beheading the second.

I also recognise that not all couples who get married have children for a variety of reasons, and similarly that many children are now born outside of marriage.

But that clearly you think those children are receiving lesser "love" than their married-parent counterparts

My concern, however, is that by moving to a definition of marriage that no longer requires sexual difference, we will, over time, ultimately decouple the definition of marriage from family life altogether.

I want you to remember that she's said this, because it will be important later.

I doubt that this change will be immediate. It will be gradual, as perceptions of what marriage is and is for shift.

Like John Pugh before her, Sarah Teather here seeks to protect the future from us interfering lot. Thank god that people like Sarah here are there to ensure that as cultural changes happen, institutions are forced to remain the same so that future generations may not get an accurate idea of how culture has changed!

But we can already see the foundations for this shift in the debate about same-sex marriage. Those who argue for a change in the law do so by saying that surely marriage is just about love between two people and so is of nobody else's business.

That's because the definition of marriage is exactly that. The vows that people take in religious ceremonies are about partnership and love. Those championing same-sex marriages aren't taking anything away from what marriage is, they're just echoing it.

Once the concept of marriage has become established in social consciousness as an entirely private matter about love and commitment alone, without any link to family, I fear that it will accelerate changes already occurring that makes family life more unstable. (I should add, that I also suspect it will make marriage ultimately seem irrelevant. After all, how long before gay people begin to say, as many straight couples of my own generation have begun to say, "if marriage is just about love, why would I need a piece of paper to prove it?")

So, first... citation needed. If Sarah Teather has a definition stashed away somewhere that links the state involvement with marriage to the encouragement and promotion of family life, I'm sure we'd all love to see it.

Second: This is the WORST reason to try to stop legislation. I'm sorry, you're worried that people will subscribe to marriage in a way that differs from your view, so you wish to put road blocks in the way of that view taking hold?! How is that, in any world, a liberal stance to take? You don't want something to become irrelevant, so you intend to keep things legally irrelevant for a section of society instead?

Better that they're forced to find it irrelevant as standard, than to come to that conclusion on their own, eh?

Third, CITATION NEEDED! "Changes already occurring that makes family life more unstable"? I would LOVE to see a link between people marrying purely for love and commitment and divorce levels instead of, say, people marrying through family pressure and religious fear combined with a change in attitudes to sexual intercourse.

Seriously, if you have something that shows that people entering in to a legal partnership for private reasons of love are more and more likely to have unstable family lives, put it out there.

If I felt that the current legal framework left gay couples unprotected, I would be much more inclined to support the proposed legislation.

"Look, you already have it pretty good, why do you need to even have equality?"

Basically, I think David Lammy slamdunked this type of bullshit argument that is, quite frankly, insulting...

"Let me speak frankly. “Separate but equal” is a fraud. Separate but equal is the language that tried to push Rosa Parks to the back of the bus. Separate but equal is the motif that determined that black and white could not possibly drink from the same water fountain, eat at the same table or use the same toilets. Separate but equal are the words that justified sending black children to different schools from their white peers" - David Lammy MP

If you cannot see when you write a statement like the one above about how you are promoting a two teir society, as a fucking liberal, you should be ashamed.

However, the civil partnerships legislation, which I voted for in my first parliament, equalised relationships between same-sex couples before the law, providing the same protections as offered to heterosexual married couples.

And so the goalposts shift. Remember the statement I asked you to remember above? Right. So initially Sarah wants marriage to be all about married life, the promotion of the family unit. So here Sarah is creating an interesting paradox for herself.

If marriage is required to have the most stable family life, then everyone should aspire to be married. If civil partnerships are as good as marriage, then we should help encourage the most stable family life by calling it what it is...a marriage. But Sarah doesn't want to do this, and so she...mustn't support the strength of family life.

I felt strongly that it was right to support civil partnerships to ensure that gay people in committed long term relationships are not discriminated against financially and legally and can take part in decisions about their partner's health care. Virtually no new protections are offered to same-sex couples on the basis of this legislation on marriage, and any that are could easily be dealt with by amending civil partnership legislation.

"If gay couples have a problem, let's sort it out, but not in a way that threatens my perception of my faith, mmkay?"

If the new legislation doesn't offer anything much different aside from a change to the legal definition of marriage (that may or may not technically exist in law), and offers new protections that Sarah would support, then what reason at all is there to stand against it?

The argument in favour of same-sex marriage has mostly centred on rights.

Sure, it's part of the strongest sounding arguments. Rights for gay couples to be legally recognised as exact equals to hetero-couples, rights for religious institutions to perform same sex marriages if they wish to do so. It doesn't appear you're going to touch on the other religious institution's rights that you've tried to trample on today, nor the other wider reasons about culture or society. I guess it's easier to pretend that the tally if one libertarian view versus one socially liberal one and to just write it off as a draw.

But this isn't the only liberal philosophical perspective on the legislation. The more I considered this bill the more I was unsure about the state's role.

You seemed pretty sure above, the state has to promote a stable family life as much as possible, right?

If an important reason for marriage is that it is a space for having and raising children, I can see the relevance for the state being involved in regulating it and encouraging stability for the good of society and for children's welfare.

Ok...there better be something pretty damn mindblowing to change this from supporting the extension of marriage to opposing it...

Similarly, if there is a need for protection of rights to property and rights to make decisions, there are good reasons for the state to provide regulation.

Yet this isn't what gay couples are fighting for...I guess we've finished building our strawman now?

But neither of these things is what this legislation is trying to do. In this case, the state is regulating love and commitment alone, between consenting adults, without purpose to anything else. That feels curious to me, as I would normally consider that very much a private matter.

Actually, with purpose also to religious institutions that wish to be able to legally and religiously marry same sex couples but are currently being denied that right, but hey let's not let small fry religions like the jewish religion get in the way of this Catholic Crusade.

But let's just reverse things a second. Is the state regulating love and commitment here? They are not, they are bringing in line the regulations for civil partnerships to be recognised as a defined marriage, so it is, like in 2004, about affording same sex couples the same rights as hetero-couples on the same level. It is not just about private love and commitment.

I have found this a difficult decision because of my work previously on gay rights issues, and my judgment is finely balanced.

"Every bone in my body tells me there is no reason to oppose this, but my faith tells me I must...argh...decisions decisions."

I recognise that others may reflect deeply on these issues and come to a different view, in good faith. But it is my view that where the extra protections offered to same-sex couples are marginal, and where the potential negatives to society over a period of time may be more considerable, I am unable to support the bill.

And here we are with the negatives, this supposed peril that by allowing people to continue not as civil partners, but married partners, who have chosen to do this because of love and commitment, will cause widespread family breakdown in the UK. Citation needed indeed.

What Sarah is saying here is that she couldn't give a flying fuck if a homosexual couple have a "marriage" breakdown if it's not called a marriage. This doesn't affect family stability enough it seems. Suddenly call it a marriage and it's completely different though. The same rights and responsibilities with a different name CHANGE THE WHOLE GAME. Society will suddenly be negatively affected in a way they weren't by identical actions under a separate moniker.


Although the vote today was subject to a free, unwhipped vote, I understand that my views place me out of step with most of my liberal democrat colleagues and party members. I have not often found myself out of step with party members over the last twenty years. But one of the things that always impresses me about our party is that we are liberal enough to accept that others may hold different views. Our party members hold strong views, but recognise and cherish the space for difference. I am proud of that.

I hope that no Liberal Democrat recognises this difference. I hope that the Lib Dems tend to be tolerant of their other members and MPs views because they are, at least, considered views with some basis in logic and reason. I hope that no-one lets this kind of nonsense pass as an "acceptable" view in a liberal society. That's not to say that Sarah can't have it, she's free to think what she wishes, but she's not free to pretend that the view is one of merit or substance.

The above from Sarah is pure and unadulterated prejudice, sprinkled with as many references as possible to say "I love the gays really!" while at the same time underhandedly insulting them.

Let's make no mistake here, she has said that if the world operated in a parallel universe where todays vote was a no, and same sex marriage never made it in to law, society would not suffer the dreadful, elusively "negatives" that are to come over time. Now, however, we are to lock up our doors, for the gaypocalypse is coming. She wants people to enter in to loving relationships as they are better for families, but also holds the contradictory belief that those in loving relationships are becoming more and more unstable family units. She thinks the world is changing, but doesn't want to do anything that will facilitate that change for fear of how people might think differently then than she does now.

How very, utterly, liberal.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Worrying about tokenism?

Laura Kalbag has written a insightful piece on her blog about her views on women and conferences. This has perhaps been spurred in to being after some truly horrible stories that have been spoken out about by the likes of Sarah Parmenter, Relly Annett-Baker and Ashe Dryden (and, unfortunately more still than them). However something is sitting uneasily with me, and perhaps the best way to describe it is this idea of there being a perfect and non-disruptive solution to our industry (and sister-industry's) problem with diversity and latent discrimination.

Laura says:

Nobody wants to be the token speaker

I enjoy speaking occasionally, but I’m really more of a fan of attending conferences. I don’t want token women speakers to exist, let alone have people suggest that I am one, and that I was only asked to speak to fulfil a quota.


Quotas don’t help, because that just results in “token” speakers, but men pledging to not speak unless there’s a satisfactory representation of women is helpful, because it’s telling the organisers that diversity is important to them, and that you believe the current lineup isn’t representative of a fair speaker selection process.

I'd love to be an optimist and hope that this will pull the curtain up from in front of the eyes of conference organisers and goers, and even perhaps filter it's way down in the thinking and ethos of those that employ people in web design and development. But I don't think I can be.

While I don't agree with strict quotas, I do agree with targets. If conference creators were to sign up to a pledge, not just (or at all) the male speakers of this world, that promised to be open and transparent about their selection process, and to achieve some basic diversity targets...this would make a lot more difference than people sitting on the sidelines saying "no, I can't be a part of this".

This pledge might change attitudes, but it also might just give organisers a feeling of being snubbed. It doesn't mean that their prejudices won't continue to operate, that they won't just go to the next white guy on their list that they like. Any buy-in to increasing diversity has to come from a combination of getting these organisers to sign up to a transparency pledge, detailing to prospective conference goers what they're doing about diversity at their conference, and getting those outside pressuring through boycott or through persuasion that they want a better and more socially/culturally reflective conference.

And there is another issue with this pledge. I can't find the link, unfortunately, but there was a woman who said it best when she said that it's not realistic to expect all speakers to honour their pledge to only speak at diverse events. It's easy for those at the top, that are enough of a draw to the crowds that their action might make a difference. But a new speaker, trying to break in to the scene...there is no benefit to them or to diversity to do this.

But this does, of course, lead to this idea that "tokens" would exist in the speaking panel, where the conference has signed up to try to meet some "targets" and have thus got some women on the panel...

...I say that this is a short term problem, and largely an internal, self-reflective one we have to battle through. The idea in attendee's heads that people are tokens on stage will only last as long as they don't realise those "tokens" are good speakers. No-one (that is not inherently and deeply rooted in their bigotry) will remain sitting there thinking "regardless of how useful this talk is, I will always view it less because this person is a 'token' speaker"

To put it in to context, there are sponsors that get spots at conferences, perhaps indirectly. These are people that work for Apple or Microsoft or Adobe, for example. The initial thought may well be that they're only on stage because they're advertising something. So how does this go?

Well, if they are advertising...just pushing a soft-sell...people's prejudices against this kind of speaker placement are reinforced. Yet regardless of the state of the "sell", no-one comes out of the room complaining about the fact that it was a corporate pitch if the talk was useful and of good quality. Those that do are usually just fervent fanboys, the company brand version of racism.

Yet women and other minorities in this industry don't need to pitch anything, they aren't competing on that stage for market share in any practical sense...all that they need to do is offer a useful and well presented talk and no-one of reasonable mind will even think they were a token placement. Part of the problem right now with some seems to be that they honestly think, while completely oblivious to the misogyny of it all, that there just aren't as many good women speakers and men. The problem with leaving it to male speakers to "drop out" is that this unreasonable feeling is reinforced by such an action, not challenged.

We have to accept the reality that, as much as we may wish it away, this sexism and racism is not going to disappear for a LONG time, if it ever does. There will always be these arseholes, but there won't always be a culture that what these arseholes say is tolerable. Just like we now grimace at racial stereotypes of 1960s "chinese" in the cinema of the time (also, watch that link for bonus "friendzone" style bullshit), we are already starting to realign our culture and find it uncomfortable that we have to hear some of the utter drivel that some bigots come out with.

What we can't do is be afraid of the self-doubt that might come with that, that the path to embedding diversity as a standard, not an ideal, will be opposed by those who have prejudice to bring forward. Fear like this leaves the power of change outside of our own control.

To put an analogy to that of a kid...a kid that really doesn't like carrots. Are we going to wait until all the other food, the chips, the bread, the jam, is no longer available before we say "look, you HAVE to eat carrot now, you have no choice!"...or are we just going to be good parents and say "Try that carrot, look, let's mash it in with some wasn't that actually really nice?". Only one of those routes is going to lead to your kid overcoming their prejudices against orange vegetables.

The male speaker pledge? Fine, it's a nice idea and at a high level it raises awareness...this is good. But without conference organisers promising to be open, to explain that actually the reason their line-up is all male is because they literally couldn't find a single woman to come and speak (and here are the steps we took to try!), and ultimately without women accepting that positive cultural change doesn't come without a bumpy ride that they must weigh up against not being on the ride at all, change won't happen at the rate we want it.