Iran news digest

The gentle plea of Iran News Digest to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and security forces is very moving.

The digest is of news from Iran by big media outlets in what I can appropriately term ‘the free world’ – I found many (though not all) of the same by searching Google News, but it’s good to have aggregated. From it:

Invisibility or the spotlight – women in “historically male-dominated” fields

I’m pretty duff on the technical side of what I do but if I were better I can’t think of a much nobler calling than open source software development. Just stumbled upon the Geek Feminism blog and a guest post from Melissa Draper on the experience of being a minority in your field. This takes me back to a conversation with a bloke in the department where I did my PhD. He had a fearsome intellect and was getting recognition for what he did but, because he happened to be almost completely deaf and almost completely blind, he had been approached by a deaf-blind organisation to mentor other people with his combination of impairments. I asked some kind of crass question and he told me sadly that he didn’t want to be a role model, he just wanted to study like everybody else.

Taking anti-discrimination law into account, Melissa Draper sums up the situation for women in software development:

“With this perceived fair playing field, we often find ourselves asking how we can get girls and women to choose to be involved in fields which are perceived as “historically male-dominated”.

Asking this question, in this manner, inadvertently highlights one of the obstacles which girls and women still face in spite of the applauded taboo on sexual discrimination. It highlights that many of the potential role models for girls and women today, the women pioneers of computing history, are invisible.

Invisibility does not limit itself to history either. The founder of the Free Software movement, Richard Stallman, has previously failed to identify women that have played important roles in the GCC project.

This feminine invisibility (including the “honorary guy” culture) is hurting our budding female software developers. It is robbing them of their inspiration, and creating an atmosphere in which they feel even more like an anomaly than they deserve to.

Because these women of computing past are invisible, the women of modern computing are often put in the spotlight in an attempt to fill the motivational void. Women in software development do not become ‘just a software developer’ like the male super-majority do, they become software developers who must carry the extra burden that being a role model brings, simply because they are so rare.

This spotlight is not always a flattering one. It can draw additional attention, and opens women up to a level of scrutiny that men are generally not subject to.

Being in this spotlight is akin to walking into a saloon in the old west and having every eye turn to watch you. It is like having someone watch over your shoulder as you type. In some cases, especially for women of low self-esteem, it can be as intimidating as having someone follow you into the bathroom to watch you pee. It is an extra pressure, it is an extra stress, and for some women, it is too much.

Women in software development can choose to avoid the spotlight, and many do. Women can avoid the spotlight by assuming a neutral or male identity. Women can avoid the spotlight by telecommuting or avoiding face-to-face events such as LUG meetings where their femininity will be obvious.

Women can avoid the spotlight, by not being women.

Women can choose to be a women and a role model to the girls and women who will follow in their footsteps — at the risk of extra pressures. Alternatively, they can choose to lose part of their identity and the ability to claim credit for what they achieve.”

Women in such fields are serious pioneers.

Ed’s Pledge on climate change; actually what we need is an education

Watching Newsnight tonight I noticed not for the first time that something very exciting, and as far as I know, unprecedented, is happening.

The environmental cognoscenti now comprise a critical mass of our politicians. And they are allying with radical change heralds the Climate Campers to send a message of “That’s enough” to the British masses.

I’m strongly braced by Prescott 2.0’s hectoring – mainly because I agree with everything he says: industrialised countries have to make the deepest cuts in emissions in order to permit the people of the world’s poorest countries to improve their standard of living.

Climate Change secretary Ed Miliband will be negotiating a deal on climate change at Copenhagen in about 100 days. Tell him you want him to cut our emission and protect the interests of the world’s poor by signing his pledge. The campaign is terribly simple – there’s nothing you wouldn’t want to sign, if you cared. I think he just wants goodwill. I can certainly give him that. But his department is going to have to get its finger out and educate us sooner or later. Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, sure – leadership. But blind following is what gets us into all our messes, no?

Now, I haven’t read much analysis on it, but I would like to understand how this sudden acceleration into awareness raising, compared with practically sweet f.a. over the preceding years, relates to the financial crisis. But I won’t ask too many questions here. Basically, educate us, Ed. We are ready.

Nobody at the grass roots activist level gets to say that capitalism has to slow down severely, because that scares the horses. I’m not one of those who believes capitalism is inherently exploitative and wasteful of people  and materials (although it has a tendency that way). I love entrepreneurship, innovation, invention, but built-in obsolescence and manufactured desires are incompatible with our ongoing existence. Throw away tooth-brushes. Beach chairs that won’t stand a bit of rough treatment by drunk men. Coat hangers which fail at the join of the frame and the hanger. Throw-away plastic pint receptacles. Tents sold so cheaply festival-goers feel OK about abandoning them at the end. Abandoned rotisseried corpses. These are just things which I have seen in the last week and they are going to stop.

I’d like to explain the link I’ve just made between waste and emissions, but I’m going to bed. You may as well write off the preceding paragraph as unsubstantiated ranting. You see what I mean – we need an education. Our elected representatives have to stop the technical negotiators insulating us from the science.

Too late to dig out the link now, but it was on the subject of Vestas that I read an account of an exchange between Miliband and George Monbiot on the latter’s blog. Monbiot was commiserating that the silent majority weren’t able to speak out about renewable energy.

And that was it. No links to accessible sources of information for the uninitiated. No opportunity taken to restate the case for renewables. Only sighing. And Ed’s pledge is, I’m afraid, only a very unambitious departure from sighing. He appears to want a herd and I find this infuriating. I want a world of informed, thinking people who would soberly and voluntarily rule out doing a lot of the things a lot of us take for granted now because they had vision and knew it was the right thing to do.

But anyway sign Ed’s pledge and empower him to negotiate for us to make the necessary cuts in our omissions. He needs the support, he doubts it, he can’t do anything without it, and that is why he has made it so simple and so easy.

Update: in East Germany during the era of the iron curtain, waiting list for a car – a trabant – was years long. If your trabi broke, you had to hustle for the parts, and if you got a part, you installed it yourself. In the caption for the trabi at the Museum of the GDR in Berlin, it’s written that every trabi owner was their own mechanic. May those days never return, but it’s good to be able to care for and fix your stuff. Here’s something topical about the endangered status of instruction manuals.

My neighbours are banishing the local birds and filling our gardens with excrement

There has been a huge explosion of kittens in the neighbourhood. While utterly charmed by cats, the fact is I haven’t seen a bird in the garden for months. They have been replaced by catshit.

In all senses, I’d like to lay this at my neighbours’ door.

For some weeks now I’ve been starting to consider ways to keep them out (while simultaneously yearning to cuddle and pet them). Until now, the strategy has been to launch myself out of the back door and run at them hissing. This is a hurtful thing to be reduced to.

The final straw happened the other morning when I jolted awake with a sharp cry as a kitten, not light on its feet, leapt from the sill of the window at the turn of our stairs onto the landing outside our bedroom door. Matt was gone, my spectacles were not on, and all I saw was a dark shape making its way towards the bed. An incubus, was my first panic-stricken thought.

At my shriek the kitten about-turned and leapt back on the windowsill. I’d had put my glasses on by then. The presumptuous little hooligan interpreted the croon I uttered as encouragement to come straight back and get on the bed! He was tortoiseshell and white and not shy. He put his front paws up on my thighs in an over-familiar way to see better as I stood at the sink cleaning my teeth. He sat on the dressing table as I dragged a comb through my hair.

Break-in

(By the way, I was petting him not strangling him.)

And then when, doubtful that I could persuade him out the way he had come, I shut the stairway window, he went beserk, knocked pot plants over, tried to jump through the downstairs windowpane and only found the door I had opened for him through a series of painful-sounding trials and errors.

Who couldn’t love a kitten? The fact remains, though, that my neighbours are responsible for the mossy paw-prints all down my stairwell wall. I find it hard to swallow, given that we live in a society which recognises private property, that it is alright to buy a live creature and set it free to kill, foul and trespass in the environs. It isn’t neighbourly at all, in my book.

So, I went to the RSPB site and purchased, for a significant sum I had to stump up myself, an ultrasonic cat deterrent, Catwatch, which they say works exclusively on cats. When I told (leading green blogger) Barkingside 21, however, he literally hooted. Apparently they don’t work and his has been retired to the garage.

We will see. There’s always physical barriers.

Going to Green Man

This Green Man.

It will rain but I can’t get wet because I have a rubberised German army poncho you can bivouac under and a small beach chair to elevate me out of the mud. Matt has exactly the same but he doesn’t look stupid. Also I dug out one of Matt’s old hospital specimen cans and a funnel for avoiding nocturnal queuing. Wellies and a blanket complete this tramp-like picture.

Particularly looking forward to Wilco, one of the world’s better bands. I’ve never seen them but I know I’m going to remember it for the rest of my life. Mind you, they’ll probably split up shortly afterwards – tends to happen to me.

Update: I was really deeply warmed by Wilco’s profoundly romantic, sometimes tragic, often humourous pieces, irritated by Gang Gang Dance, bored by Animal Collective (formless in tempo and melody), loved Grizzly Bear and my local drop-outs Swanton Bombs (who misfit the Green Man Pub stage, a mild and gentle place), thought Rozi Plains was amazing, ditto the rest of the Fence collective (I love the idea of being able to write a song and have it performed without leaving my house) and it hardly rained at all. Didn’t Twitter but there’s a lot to see there including this set of photos from Mark Turner which gives you a real sense of the beautiful setting, and a review from What’s On Wales.

Saying yes to things, watching Duncan Jones’ Moon

On (give or take a month) the 40th anniversary of the Apollo moon landings, Mitch invited us to watch Duncan Jones’ Moon at the Stratford Picture House.

I could feel myself about to say “I think I’ll stay in tonight” when I remembered Matt telling me about a podcast he’d listened to where a bloke had decided to say “Yes” more, so I said “Is it PG”? No, it was Certificate 15. But where violence is concerned I have the viewing-age of an under-twelve.

Sam Bell is an astronaut in charge of a mine works, based alone in a station on the moon without a live communication feed. His sole helper and companion is a robot called GERTY. Two weeks away from the end of a three-year contract he has an accident and when he wakes up, he finds he is not alone any more.

The British Board of Film Classifications explained exactly why it was Certificate 15. I decided to go, because it sounded like a very good film and, as a user of the BBFC’s extended classification information (to me, ‘spoiler’ is a misnomer) I was fairly confident about avoiding the bad bits (but there’s no spoiler in this post). And it’s time to grow up.

I spent the first half hour in a neurotic crash position, two fingers in my ears and four more pressing my eyes shut, my heart beating  “like a little guinea pig” Matt observed unkindly, and as ever astonished by my own pathos.  But the situation was unbelievably claustrophobic, there were sharp implements used by the protagonist, a robot gave a haircut, there was heavy working industrial machinery everywhere, and the noises were menacing. All I could see was sharp or heavy danger, and his impending accident.  I take of my hat to today’s film makers for sheer power over our souls. Watching the old fashioned films this one referenced – 2001, Dark Star – is fine, but modern cinematography penetrates your psyche like a knife into butter.  All the same, there is something a little wrong with my reaction. A film made me jump once and I never got over it.

Then, between the penultimate violent event which caused the 15 certification and the final one (which couldn’t happen because the plot hadn’t sufficiently thickened) I began to watch properly. It was really worth it.

There are some problems with the exposition – for example, it beats me why a company with a monopoly and machinery as sophisticated as GERTY would require a human to staff the station, and why only one human, and why for three years with no vacation? But’s probably best not to ask the plot to carry more weight than it can – there are just some things you have to take for granted in order to get to think about the more interesting stuff.

moon-gertyOne reviewer called Moon “a study of loneliness” but for me it was more of a study of humanity. The way Sam and GERTY (whose voice was Kevin Spacey) related to each other was one of the most interesting things. GERTY’s design was also intriguing – he was not anthropoid but he had a small screen for displaying yellow emoticons. Throughout the film GERTY was confronted with new situations, and the interplay between his range of expressions, the rapid shift between them, and their frequent incongruity were some of the funniest moments. They were some of the most interesting insights into the values of GERTY’s programmer. I think GERTY’s processor would have been some kind of neural network, software which can learn on the job. In an understated way you could see GERTY learning, and this became very important as the plot began to explore what ethical values meant to sophisticated computers, and to the relations between humans and sophisticated computers – what does it mean when GERTY says he exists to keep Sam “safe”? – and relations between managers and their human and non-human staff.

This is no dehumanised technological dystopia flick, and in a really interesting way I can’t go into without giving away the plot, it’s a counter to both technophobia and conspiracy theory films. Watch it.

Then today I regressed; I have just said “No” to something I originally said yes to. There’s a free showing of Joseph Cedar’s Israeli warfilm Beaufort at the Free Word Centre tonight. I had tickets but Matt couldn’t get back in time, and although I had thought, based on the BBFC, it would be alright, one Internet Movie Database reviewer said “I jumped in my seat like I never had before”. So I called them and freed up the tx. I need somebody to hang onto. I need to make the screen go small by looking at it in their spectacles. I’m ashamed.

Where are the feminists / No more segregated weddings for me

I notice that Jim Fitzpatrick, food, farming and environment minister is getting criticism for walking out of a sexually-segregated wedding when it emerged that he and his wife would be split up for the duration.

I realise the family decided to segregate man from woman out of “respect for elderly relatives”. I would like to talk about respect for women.

My mum was raised orthodox Jewish in north Manchester. When we went to see relatives, it would invariably fall on a weekend and we would have to go to shul. The men and even very little boys would be seated downstairs close to the action and the objects of reverence. Women would sit upstairs in the gallery. I had to wear a hat. I was learning Hebrew until my own bat mitzvah, but it was impossible to follow the service because the women would talk. And why not? All indications were that their attention was of little importance.

At work there was an event which was mis-advertised, meaning that I turned up early. In the hall the seating was partitioned into two – one side for women and the other for men. Losing my nerve, I took a chair to the middle at the back and waited for the event to begin. Three minutes into a sermon – some kind of exegesis on part of the koran, in the style of an American evangelistic preacher – I realised I was at the wrong event and gratefully crept out. When I returned an hour later to listen to Muslims, Jews, Christians and the a-religious talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to my relief the chairs were arranged in an egalitarian horseshoe.

One of the more recent wedding receptions I went to was sunni Muslim in a Barking community centre attached to a mosque. A work-friend’s father had died suddenly and a marriage had to be quickly brokered for her. Vaseline-lensed photos had been posted on a matchmaking site of her reclining on an ottoman, hair uncovered and wearing pantaloons (she wore hijab usually). A suitable husband had been found. She would marry and immediately move to Birmingham.

On arrival at the wedding venue I was dragged by a group of small girls I had met before to a large room downstairs filled with women and children. Little of the bright sunlight outside penetrated through the narrow windows along the top of the outside wall, so it was artificially lit. The room itself was spartan and the additions for the wedding guests were modest. Over the course of the celebrations, the little girls were obliged to remain downstairs but the little boys went between our room and the men’s room upstairs at will.  As I left, I decided to take a peek into the room upstairs. I saw carpet, upholstery, curtains and some gilt. And some men asked me whether I was looking for a husband. No, just wanted to see how the other half lived, I replied. That will be the last time I attend a sexually-segregated religious event of any shape or form.

Where are the feminists? Oh, they’re picking their battles. Picking your battles means being much, much angrier with Jim Fitzpatrick for bringing negative and political publicity to his friends’ wedding, than they are with the patriarchy in evidence at that wedding. I searched my feed reader and the commentary has been dispiriting (I’m sorry – these days it seems I only write about stuff where the commentary has been dispiriting). David T makes a number of feminist points but concludes that it would be “rude” not to go to a friend’s segregated wedding. JimJay has no feminist comment to make whatsoever. The bridegroom, departing from the “elderly relatives” reason for segregation, deplored Jim Fitzpatrick for not respecting his religion’s customs. One commentator on the Today Programme on Friday said that he went to weddings he “did what we’re told”. Charlie Pottins, so-called socialist, has nothing to say. Subordination of women forms no part of Iain Dale’s moral dilemma. Some other bloggers I read haven’t got round to talking about this (yet?).

In each of the examples above, which I have experienced first hand in a way that few men would have the opportunity to do, I felt a sense of shame and subordination. The difference of opportunity between women and men must instil a sense of male superiority and autonomy and female inferiority and subordination from a young age. It allows the false premise that men cannot control their thoughts of sex, and in fact turns it into a cultural pillar. I think it is very wrong. To their credit, my parents raised me in the reform Jewish faith in a community with a feminist rabbi.

At Pickled Politics, Rumbold points out that sex segregation also happens at most gurdwaras. He says there is no easy answer as to what to do in these situations. I agree – it’s not easy, but it’s clear what you have to do: create a different set of customs.

I won’t rubbish my friends’ and family’s religious beliefs, I won’t cause a scene, I’ll choose my words as tactfully as I know how to, I’ll ask for the video, and I’ll make sure nobody could use me to further a cause of intolerance or hatred of religious minorities – but I won’t again participate in the normalising of marginalisation and subordination of women and girls.

If I’m invited to a religious gathering again, I’ll ask whether women and men will sit apart, and if the answer is yes, I’ll politely decline and say it’s against my beliefs to separate the sexes as if it were harmful for them to be together and as if one was less deserving than the other.

Otherwise I would hate myself in the morning.

Update: Kia Abdullah on the unwelcome segregaton of her own wedding. Nothing on Feministing. Nothing on the F-Word.

Update 2: Jobeda Ali says “let’s not confuse standing up against sexism with standing up to racism“. Some commenters miss the point spectacularly, can’t seem to recognise the difference between single sex events and marginalisation or subordination.