The most important decisions we make

NOTE: The views expressed here are not necessarily those of anyone else.  Also, I’m supposed to be in California this week.  Reading this, hopefully you’ll understand why I’m not.

 

It’s been a scary weekend.  On Saturday afternoon, in an increasingly futile attempt to stave off the effects of incipient middle age, I went for a short run.  When the sweating, panting mess I so rapidly degenerated into wilted through the front door 20 minutes later, something was wrong, but for a change, not with me.  My wife was talking seriously about something on the phone.  I could tell she was concerned.  My first reaction was that a friend had called for help – my wife is the kind of person people turn to – but as the crashing sound of blood pumping through my ears started to dissipate, I realised she was talking to a nurse about an attack of some kind she had just experienced.  Could be anything.   Better get it checked out, to be sure, was the advice.

So I threw some clothes on and we jumped into the car, talking logistics all the way to Accident & Emergency: a babysitter to stand down, a restaurant booking to cancel, friends to disappoint.   We parted at the hospital, and I took the girls home for dinner.  Two hours later, a phone call that made the room spin: my wife was undergoing emergency neurological tests and would be under observation for 72 hours.  My nervousness must have communicated itself to the children who, without me speaking, started envisioning a worst case scenario.

Cue internal chaos.  Packing a bag, cooking food to take, trying to think straight and not let fear take hold.  Dropping things off at the hospital a second time was worse, squalid logistics getting in the way of managing the children’s and our own feelings to any degree of satisfaction.

I love my wife.  Being married to her defines who I am more than any other choice I have made in life.  The goodness inside her sustains me and the thought that anything was so threatening to her well-being is monstrous.  And in those fearful hours, all I had to cling on to was that identity.  Four words, “I am her husband”, would tell anyone everything they needed to know about my right to access, to information, to respect.  When suddenly the life my wife and I have built together seemed under any kind of threat, the monument of our public commitment to each other was the main thing to hold on to.

Very often, critics of the notion of same-sex marriage seem to feel it can be reduced to something empty, as though symbolism carries no weight.  As though legal constructs around civil partnerships, common law marriages, tax codes, inheritance rights and so forth suffice.  All of that misses what’s important.

 


 

This week, one man’s political activism against same-sex marriage has been held up as defining his ability to lead Mozilla.  There have been no complaints (none whatsoever) about his behaviour, and the oganisation he founded has one of the most inclusive and open cultures of any I have ever been associated with.  But it seems that Brendan Eich, for reasons he chooses to keep private, opposes equality for same-sex couples.  I think he is wrong to do so.  And it is a wrongness that isn’t theoretical or abstract, it’s a visceral one.  Marriage is not about the easy things, it’s about the hard things.  Denying the support of the institution of marriage to same-sex couples is denying many people the very thing they need to lead a fulfilling life.

You or I may be troubled by Brendan’s personal support of prop 8, but there are many issues of ethical substance that the Mozilla community – any community – is capable of disagreeing on, and remaining a coherent community, including some that in 2014 could be regarded as even more important  than that of same sex marriage (importance in some absolute terms – it is also possible for me to imagine there are many people for whom this is the most important issue of the day).  And I feel I (and many other Mozillians), feel the need to clarify where we stand.

So, why does Brendan’s donation matter so much to so many?  I suspect it’s this: the issue of same-sex marriage has become a litmus test in north America. It defines whether you are red or blue.  I grew up in a radically left-wing but somewhat socially conservative city.  One’s stance on same-sex marriage defines little else about how someone thinks for me, but I realise that in other cultures, it might signal a great deal.  And if you’re gay, lesbian or bisexual, it might seem to define how they think about you.   For constructive thoughts from such a perspective Christie Koehler’s blog on the topic is recommended.

 

Let’s get this on the table.  I do not wish to engage in Whataboutism.  The notion that you cannot raise an ethical objection in one field without philosophical clarity in all others is, of course, unhelpful.  But we should also recognise that social attitudes change.  That this is normal.  That at any one time, there will be a plurality of views on issues that in hindsight, appear open and shut.   The language of my grandparents’ generation wouldn’t pass muster these days.  As recently as the 1970s, there were open campaigns for paedophile rights in the UK.  In the 1980s casual racism was celebrated in light entertainment on television.  And to this day gender equality is very obviously a mess and not regarded as a mainstream issue worthy of similar activism as same-sex marriage.

One example that will appear trivial to many: I am a vegetarian.  When people learn this, they typically have one of three reactions: to tell me how little meat they eat themselves, to tell me how they couldn’t possibly live without meat, or to ask me how long ago and why I became a vegetarian.   The answer to the latter is since I was 13 or 14, and that for as long as I could remember, it always seemed to me obviously wrong to cause distress to and kill animals needlessly (more or less).  I do not suspect I would win many converts if I became more militant in my vegetarianism, although I am always happy to engage with people that wish to discuss it, both seriously and flippantly.  But I need to be accepting of the wider moral context.  Not many people share my perspective.  Regarding it as defining of someone’s character is futile.

What about issues we can all agree on?  How many Mozillians supported Obama in 2012, even after it became clear that drone strikes were a chosen instrument of foreign policy for his administration?  Many Mozillians had “Obama 2012″ stickers on their laptops even as mechanised death rained down from the sky on young children born in the wrong part of the world.  How will we view the Obama era in 20, 30 years’ time?  A great man compromised by circumstance?  The lesser of two evils?  A leader who guaranteed his own nation’s security whatever the price?  Will Americans view it differently to non US-nationals?  There’s debate to be had there.  And however strongly I feel about same-sex marriage, I am capable of feeling even more strongly about the 174 Pakistani children reported killed in drone strikes before Obama’s reelection.  Should we judge Obama through the lens of drone strikes?  Should I decide whether or not I will work with someone through the lens of their support for a president who himself supports drone strikes?  I believe that would be self-righteous, not righteous.  It would be a failure to understand the choices they feel they have in front of them.  It can seem absolutely wrong and yet part of a complex picture.

 

I feel very proud to be a Mozillian and very fortunate to work full time for the project.  This week, a number of individuals who are as fortunate as I am in this regard called on Brendan to step down as CEO because of his personal political activism against same-sex marriage.  They are to be applauded for their courage: being prepared to take a stand, big or small, on a matter of conscience defines social progress.  The now unacceptable attitudes of previous decades I mentioned above have, in part, been modernised by such activism.  But I am not prepared to allow my association with the project be defined by this issue.

We have what unites us: the work of Mozilla.  I feel on safe ground in declaring the Internet is the greatest change to the world in our lifetimes.  Its effects are widespread, and unpredictable.  And must be directed to the public good.  Do we want an instrument of progress, of participation, or of passive consumerism?  Do you share the belief that connecting economies, societies, and individuals on their own terms has great potential for humanity?  Do you believe that this needs protecting, nurturing?  That is what defines us, what gives us clarity of purpose.  Not drone strikes, not vegetarianism, not same-sex marriage, and even as we frequently find commonality of views within our community on many of these topics, we must also accept there will be divergence.  Like many Mozillians, I have aspirations that the open Web will improve the world and the situation with respect to many of the issues that I hold dear.  But I don’t believe it is reasonable to demand that everyone else who believes in the open Web must have the same aspirations for it.  We can, however, continue to contribute to the great culture of this community: a culture of intellectual curiosity, of respect, of inclusiveness (as Lukas Blakk amongst others is doing), and, in other weeks at least, of fun.

 


 

Mrs Finch is home now, recovering, worst-case scenarios (I won’t elaborate here) dismissed. She’s fine.

The night we met, a mutual friend took me to one side and told me, “forget about her Patrick, she’s out of your league”.  I’m just hoping she never realises.  What is inevitable, however, is that we will face a more serious situation one day.  Every couple will.  And when they do, I believe that they should be able to do it together, as their partner’s wife or husband.

 

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Saluting Mozilla Macedonia

If I had to say, “what makes Mozilla special?”, I’d probably point to someone like Gorjan, a remarkable guy.

In this blog post, he could brag about the astonishing things he has done n the community at a very tender age.  He could.  Instead, he writes with honesty and humility about volunteering for Free Software projects in his country.

 

 

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Why “You Should Date an Illiterate Girl” is wrong-headed

This is possibly the second or third time that “You Should Date an Illiterate Girl”, by Charles Warnke has been circulated to me via one form of social media or another.

While there is some commendable sentiment in it on the nature of living and loving deliberately and the great privilege of having a partner who leads a rich inner life, it’s generally dreadful.

Why?  Because it perpetuates the same myth that all popular culture seems to about the nature of romantic love, and because the author is generally excusing himself.

First, the myth: the way that the final scene in most romantic fiction ends when a couple are actually united, and that a rewarding relationship is essentially predestined from that point.  Popular romantic culture is every bit as unhealthy as the popular fast-food restaurants that line every high street, creating and rewarding urges for instant gratification and denying you knowledge of what your body and soul really needs.  Romance being entirely about acquisition.  That’s not romance, that’s comedy, in several senses.

And meanwhile, there is a conspicuous absence of popular culture on the topic of making a life-long relationship fulfilling.  “You should date an illiterate girl” dresses itself up as something more profound, but the object of the author’s ire remains his choice in the first place: to date a girl who didn’t read books.  The final scene of his rom-com saw him step out with the wrong person, and so now he idealise the other, the “girl who reads” who would have made him a better man, given him a better life.

Second, his excuses.  Sure, he describes his own irritability, his own misogyny (‘Dispatch with making love. Fuck her.”) and his own lack of deliberate living.  But still, it’s always all her fault for not being better, for not making him better.

It’s vividly written and possibly extremely honest (and I am all for dating girls who read books).  The author describes very well how his own vanity and eager willingness to have a partner he could dominate intellectually and emotionally have served him badly.  But the minor tragedy of the life he describes wouldn’t have been averted without more self-knowledge than this.

(by the way, my wife does read)

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“The Internet”

This is (supposedly) self-referential humour about how people waste so much of their attention on the Internet.  But there’s something in it that bothers me still.

“The Internet: A Warning From History”

We can consider two dystopian views of the future: Orwell’s and Huxley’s.  Orwell’s vision of an authoritarian, surveillance state is one that is all too familiar to us, one we guard against.  Huxley, on the other hand, spoke of of the cult of consumption, and of stupefying ourselves with meaningless, mindless entertainment, and is one that we appear to embrace.

If I consider Mozilla: we’re very concerned with the former, with a user’s privacy, with the limits of what statutory power exists over the individual’s data.  But we pay little attention to the effects of the Internet on the individual.  Is this because we believe they are well served by the individual’s own choices and the free market?  That it is not our role?  That we have no competence here?  We might describe this as a philosophical divide between the libertarian and the paternalist.

I’m not advocating that Mozilla should aim to make this central to our mission.  I don’t see how we could.  But I do wish that there was more quantified data and a public discourse on our mental health.  Looking at the Internet, I’d have to conclude that the only health issue that matters is a preoccupation with the swift and effortless acquisition of well-defined abdominal muscles.  At least, that’s what the invisible hand shows me.

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Goodbye, Mrs Thatcher

Earlier this year, an ancient skeleton found under a car park in Leicester was confirmed (in so far as such a confirmation is possible) to be that of Richard III.  The man lived in turbulent times, arguably made all the more turbulent by his actions.  Upon his death, his naked corpse was reportedly slung over a horse and abused by the townspeople of Leicester as his skeleton appeared to show.

The reaction to Margaret Thatcher’s death this week is precisely the same thing.

I grew up in a city the was ravaged by Thatcher’s policies.  The leader of the country was a hated (and I use the word with caution) figure.  The sentiment towards Thatcher in Liverpool was entirely unambiguous and, I believe, it was appropriate.   Her government manifested a disregard for the welfare of its citizens on an unprecedented level.

But this week I’ve read things like this, “glad some rancid old cow that destroyed my entire city is dead” (and that’s one of the nicer ones), written by friends of mine (and note, they were referring to a different city).

I recall 1990, when Thatcher was forced out of office.   I played in a band at the time, and we had a song for the occasion, “Goodbye”, a charge-sheet laid out against Thatcher in lyric form.  It was in parts obscene, certainly angry and still to my mind entirely reasonable.  It had a chorus of “Goodbye, Mrs Thatcher” at which point I was supposed to lay down a funky guitar riff.  It wasn’t very good.

But it didn’t need to be.  There was a mood of celebration in Liverpool and elsewhere then.  I recall discussing it in school and a classmate, a thoughtful girl and a real scouser, taught us all a lesson. Looking at the iconic picture of Thatcher in tears, she told the class that while she was as happy as everyone else that Thatcher was gone, she couldn’t take joy in the obvious pain of someone else.  That stayed with me.

Much has changed in 23 years, much of it, we are told, caused by Thatcher (or perhaps, to the movement she was a vanguard of) summed up in the possibly apocryphally-attributed quote, “There is no such thing as society”.  I understand that sentiment to be essentially Randian: you do not have obligations to others, only to yourself.  And this is certainly the behaviour that people manifest – you can do whatever you like, as long as its in your own interest.  Both conscience and manners seem to have evaporated.  In this sense, I see the unpleasant, troubling and tasteless reactions to the news that a senile old woman has died to be an extension of the individualism that the 80s ushered in.

I’m bothered by this.  After all, the cult of individualism also seeks to expose the individual.  And Thatcher’s policies were only, only justifiable if one would assert some moral superiority of one class of people over another.  I’ve never believed that.  No life matters more or less than another.  But for that to be true, we all have to exhibit a basic humanity towards each other.

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Romans, Ancient and Modern

So, the freshly appointed Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio has renounced his fascism.  In spite of being pretty firmly opposed to the views Di Canio has just distanced himself from, I found myself troubled by this.  I shared these thoughts with my Dad, and he encouraged me to share them more widely.

It’s almost impossible, it seems, to have a rational debate about this.   Even the normally voluble biographer of Di Canio, Garbriele Marcotti, became momentarily tongue-tied and evasive when discussing this topic.  Football in Britain is gripped by a narrative of fighting racism, of “zero tolerance” (whatever that means) and of taking a stand.  This has been a difficult path to tread at times and some of those involved are to be congratulated.

But Di Canio is a fascist, not necessarily a racist.  In a country like Britain with little history of extremist politics, it seems hard for people to understand the difference. I would like to see Di Canio’s disregard for democracy challenged, not his non-existent racism.

And then, we should remember that Di Canio comes from a country where the main opposition parties have been communists for much of his lifetime, a country which has consistently had weak democratic governments since the end of fascism, and which has frequently elected an obvious crook, and which only became a nation state in the mid 19th century.  His perspective becomes more understandable, even if objectionable.

People in Britain see fascism through the lens of the Second World War and are seemingly hard-pressed to distinguish it from Nazism.  But fascism’s origins are in ancient Rome, the fasces symbolising the power of a unified state.  I don’t share Di Canio’s (now renounced) politics.  I believe very firmly in some other things, such as empathy, compassion, and diversity – something else we can find inspiration for in classical antiquity:

I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.

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Heroes needed! Firefox OS brand survey

If you’re reading this in your second language, there’s every chance that you could be a big help to us in launching Firefox OS.  Firefox OS is, of course, one of the most exciting developments in the history of the Mozilla project and squarely addresses this biggest threat to the Web today: the rise of proprietary mobile stacks.  Firefox OS is all about breathing new life and, yes, openness, into the mobile Web.

We’ve named Firefox OS “Firefox OS” for a number of reasons.  It wasn’t obvious to me that we should name it after the browser, but there are some important factors that inform this decision.  Ultimately, “Firefox OS” has the best chance of attracting users, and attracting the investments of important partners, to the platform.  Without rehashing that debate too much, it goes like this:

We need to consolidate our investment, and that of our partners, on a particular brand.   Mozilla is a house of brands, rather than a branded house.  We’re now taking Firefox and making it a house of brands for a mobile ecosystem.  The alternatives are to create a new sub-brand, and continue with the house-of-brands arrangement of today, while incurring the expense and risk of trying to create a new consumer-facing brand, and giving us a confusing product (multiple brands on one phone) in a market (mobile phone operating systems) that is characterised by great simplicity.  If you’re glazing over, don’t worry.  The point is this: we need to know how strong the Firefox brand is in many parts of the world.

If you are able to translate English into one of these locales:

China (zh-CN)
India (hi-IN)
Indonesia(id)
Malaysia(ms)
Philippines
Thailand (th)
Vietnam (vi)
Belgium (fr)
Bulgaria (bg)
Croatia (hr)
Finland (fi)
France (fr)
Greece (el)
Italy (it)
Netherlands (nl)
Slovakia (sk)
Sweden (sv-SE)
Turkey (tr)
Ukraine (uk)
Ecuador (es-EC)
Morocco (ar, fr)
Nigeria (en)
Tunisia (ar)
Japan (ja)
Singapore (en, ms)
Portugal (pt-PT)
Romania (ro)
Serbia (sr)

you can help!  The bug to jump on is Translation of Firefox OS market research study for additional locales and the file to translate is hereMilos and I are here to help too.

And lastly – a big thank you to Dwayne, Fernando, Inma, Anas, Pavel, Peter, Coce and Alexander for your help with this already.

updated Swedish and Greek locales

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